Arrested Prachatai reporter was ‘dressed like a protester,’ police officer claims

A police officer allegedly involved in the arrest of Prachatai reporter Kitti Pantapak during the crackdown on the 16 October 2020 Pathumwan intersection protest has claimed that he arrested Kitti because Kitti violated police orders by coming close to police lines, and that he was not able to distinguish Kitti from the protesters.

Kitti Pantapak (in the red circle) covering the 16 October 2020 protest. He was wearing the press armband issued by the Thai Journalists Association and was carrying his camera and mobile phone, which he was using to live broadcast the protest. 

Nattacha Boonchaiinsawat, Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Political Development, Mass Communication, and Public Participation, which is investigating Kitti’s arrest, informed Kitti via a letter dated 8 April that Pol Col Sinlert Sukhum, Deputy Commander of Metropolitan Police Division 4, told the Committee that he was one of the officers on riot control duty during the protest.

Pol Col Sinlert said that the police ordered protesters, reporters, and bystanders to leave the area so that they can separate out people who had violated the law and take control of the protest area, but there were still protesters around the area at around 21.00 and the police had to strictly enforce the law and arrest anyone violating the Emergency Decree.

He said that Kitti was arrested because he refused to follow police orders and came close to police lines. He then claimed that Kitti was dressed like a protester, that officers were unable to distinguish Kitti’s press armband from protest guards’ armbands, and that Kitti did not say that he was a reporter.

Kitti was arrested in front of MBK Centre while covering the police violence on protesters during the 16 October 2020 protest, during which the police dispersed the protesters with riot control police and water cannon, and at least 12 people were arrested.

When he was arrested, Kitti was wearing the press armband issued by the Thai Journalists Association, which has been used to distinguish field reporters covering protests from protesters. He was also carrying reporting equipment, including his camera and mobile phone. He had also told the officer arresting him 4 times that he was a reporter.

A video clip of Kitti's arrest, showing the phone being taken out of his hands and during which Kitti said 4 times that he was a reporter. 

The letter also stated that Pol Col Sinlert told the Committee that Kitti was informed of his rights when he was arrested, and that tying detainees’ hands behind their backs is a normal method of arrest used by riot control police in order to prevent escape.

However, Kitti said that he was never informed of his rights both before or after the arrest. He also said that it was not possible for him to escape because he was held by 4 – 5 officers, and that he never intended to run away to begin with.

Pol Col Sinlert also claimed not to know whether the police had tried to access Kitti’s memory card, saying that the incident is likely to have happened while Kitti was being taken by officers from Pathumwan Police Station to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters, and that he believed that it is not possible for an officer to do so as Kitti was live broadcasting his own arrest the entire time. He also told the Committee that he believed it was not possible that the police would prevent Kitti from contacting a lawyer, his editor, or a friend or family member, as police officers did not stop other reporters and Kitti’s friends from seeing him after he was arrested.

Pol Col Sinlert also told the Committee that it was necessary for the police to strictly enforce the law when there were still protesters defying police orders, and that those people must be arrested, even if they are reporters, in order to efficiently control the protest. 

Kitti being held on the police detention truck with his hands tied behind his back

At the time of his arrest, Kitti was live broadcasting on Prachatai’s Facebook page. His broadcast was cut off when the officer took the phone out of his hands. He also said that he was tied up immediately, and therefore would not have been able to continue broadcasting from within the police vehicle where he was being held. He also noticed an officer trying to remove his camera from his bag.

He also said that he was not allowed to contact a lawyer while being held in the police vehicle, and that he was told to place his phone out of reach. He had to insist to the officers at least 4 times that he has the right to contact a lawyer and his editor before being allowed to contact them.

Additionally, after the Prachatai editorial team learned that Kitti was arrested, and that his phone signal was cut off around the National Stadium, Prachatai’s editor and members of the team went to speak to police officers around the Pathumwan Intersection to inform them that Kitti was a Prachatai reporter and was arrested while reporting from the field. However, they were not allowed to meet him. Kitti had to tried to send a signal to the team until they noticed unusual movement in the vehicle and were able to confirm to the police that he was being held in that vehicle and were allowed to see him.

Even though the team informed the police both at the scene and at Pathumwan Police Station that Kitti was a reporter on duty, he was not released and remained handcuffed for over 2 hours while being taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters. He was then charged with defying an official order under Section 368 of the Criminal Code and received a fine of 300 baht.

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