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In Thailand unrest, journalists under fire

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Two journalists died and several others were injured during the country’s political unrest. A CPJ investigation has found that both security forces and protesters engaged in reckless behavior—and in the aftermath, the government has done little to bring anyone to account. A CPJ special report by Shawn W. Crispin.

After Thai security forces and antigovernment protesters clashed in a series of armed confrontations in April and May, both sides in the political conflict claimed to have exercised restraint. At least 90 people were killed and more than 1,800 injured in the violence, some of the worst civil strife to hit Thailand since troops opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1992.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government has maintained that troops used live ammunition only in self-defense, and that its crowd-control measures were consistent with international standards. The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest group, whose leaders took cues from self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, claimed throughout its nine-week demonstration that its supporters, known for their red shirts, were peaceful and unarmed.

Despite those assertions, a CPJ examination has found that both sides engaged in lethal recklessness that led to the deaths of two journalists—Fabio Polenghi, an Italian freelance photographer, and Hiro Muramoto, a Japanese cameraman for Reuters—along with injuries to nine other reporters and photographers. Two dozen journalists who covered the conflict and spoke with CPJ offered accounts that were substantially different than those presented by the government and the UDD, describing events that transformed areas of Bangkok into an unpredictable and chaotic war zone.

Journalists said that in several instances troops fired in a random manner into crowds of apparently unarmed demonstrators, frequently in areas where reporters were present. Their news reports and interviews with CPJ also highlighted the presence of heavily armed, black-clad protesters who fired gunshots and launched grenades at troops deployed in areas where journalists were positioned.

Committee to Protect Journalists

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