Bangkok cops fail to arrest ‘royalists’ who beat reporter

Self-identified royalists attack Nattaphon Phanphongsanon Friday night near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, at left. The photojournalist in a file photo, at right.
Self-identified royalists attack Nattaphon Phanphongsanon Friday night near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, at left. The photojournalist in a file photo, at right.

A photojournalist said today that he is still waiting for justice three days after he was targeted for violence by a gang of ultra-royalists for doing his job.

Nattaphon “Yha” Phanphongsanon, 33, told Coconuts that he wants to see the four men prosecuted for assaulting him Friday night near the Democracy Monument, where protesters had been calling for reform of the monarchy.

“I’m consulting with a lawyer about what else I can do to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said. “It should not end only at the police station, but in the court with proper trials.”

Just after 9pm on Friday, as Nattaphon hopped onto his motorbike parked nearby to leave, he was approached by several men asking to see photos on his phone – and if he was a journalist.

Refusing to show them his photos, Nattaphon said the men proceeded to punch and kick him. He was also hit by an expandable baton. Nattaphon ran into the McDonald’s restaurant. Security camera footage from the scene captured the attack.

Nattaphon was injured in his shoulder, arm, and neck. 

“I was lucky that I was wearing a helmet, or else I would be in worse shape,” Nattaphon said. 

Nattaphon Phanphongsanon being attacked by ultraroyalist men on Friday night near the Democracy Monument.

Nattaphon is a photographer for a media agency called Spacebar. The publication expressed its concern about the violence. 

“Political differences are normal. But the use of violence because of a political or any reason, by whoever and against whomever, is something that should not happen,” Spacebar said in a Saturday statement. 

As of this morning, one of his attackers, Benpakorn Wikabampoeng, a member of a group called Vocational Students Protecting the Thai Monarchy, had offered Nattaphon THB5,000 (US$150) in compensation for the attack. 

Nattaphon said he won’t compromise. 

“I want to give it a try. I want to make it to the courts, whether it’s a criminal court or civil court,” Nattaphon said. 

A file photo of Nattaphon Phanphongsanon. Photo: BKK Humans / Courtesy

Nattaphon said such incidents could happen to anyone at protests, including journalists working in the field.

“Next time it could be anyone – any of my colleagues or any reporters covering the protests. I want to set a norm that you should not use violence against reporters or anyone,” he said.

Benpakorn admitted to attacking Nattaphon in a Sunday livestream. He said that he attacked Nattaphon out of self defense.

“[Nattaphon] asked me why I looked at his face, and I replied ‘Why can’t I?’” he said in the video. “I saw that he also had a waist bag that might carry a weapon, so I had to protect myself.”

Benpakorn and his three accomplices have not been arrested by police. 

Despite knowing their identities, Capt. Thanakrit Jaksuwan of Chana Songkhram police told Coconuts on Monday afternoon that they were still looking for the men.

“We’re looking for the perpetrators, and we can’t say further about the case, or else the perpetrators are scared away,” Thanakrit said by phone.

Nattaphon Phanphongsanon shows his bruised shoulder and neck after being attacked Friday by the ultraroyalist men.

Police inaction is the norm when violence is used to silence critics of the government and monarchy. In 2019, the recent peak of such attacks, young protest leader Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat was savagely beaten in an attack the police would later say was politically motivated but never seriously pursued. That same year, three critics of the royal family living in exile went missing; two of their bodies later washed up in the Mekong River. Activist Ekachai Hongkangwan was beaten numerous times in broad daylight without anyone being held accountable.

More than just a personal attack, the attack on Nattaphon reflects a broader assault on journalists. The Thai Journalists Association said it was closely monitoring the situation and demanded that law enforcement prosecute those responsible. 

“The press does not side with any party. We’re only observers of what’s happening,” said Wasinee Pabuprapap, a Workpoint Today reporter and association member.

She said it creates a climate of fear for reporters, and the police must take action.

“This would not only give justice to the victims, but also guarantee that when reporters are assaulted, they will get justice, too,” she said.

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