Journalists take police to court for attacking media covering APEC crackdown

From left, Waranyu Khongsathittham is treated for a head injury caused by police at a Nov. 18 protest in Bangkok; riot police at an anti-government protest; and reporter Chalinee Thirasupa’s bandaged eye after she was hit by a glass bottle. Photos: Waranyu Khongsathittham/Courtesy, Chayanit Itthipongmaetee/Coconuts Bangkok, Chalinee Thirasupa/Courtesy.
From left, Waranyu Khongsathittham is treated for a head injury caused by police at a Nov. 18 protest in Bangkok; riot police at an anti-government protest; and reporter Chalinee Thirasupa’s bandaged eye after she was hit by a glass bottle. Photos: Waranyu Khongsathittham/Courtesy, Chayanit Itthipongmaetee/Coconuts Bangkok, Chalinee Thirasupa/Courtesy.

Journalists are demanding Thai police explain why at least five reporters were injured while covering anti-government protests in Bangkok during the APEC 2022 summit. 

Representatives from multiple agencies told Coconuts that they petitioned parliament this morning to investigate the use of force during a Nov. 18 incident in which riot police forcibly injured several reporters by kicking, hitting them with batons, and striking one in the face with a thrown glass bottle. 

“We want to see some concrete action,” said editor Pongpiphat Banchanont of online website The Matter, who filed a court complaint earlier over an injured colleague. “We need to see standards, and the police held accountable for their actions.”

He said that the Civil Court this morning answered his complaint by summoning a Royal Thai Police representative to explain what happened.

“This is interesting, it shows that the court has made a move,” Pongpiphat told Coconuts this afternoon. The court set a date of Jan. 17.

He had petitioned the court after one of his reporters, Sutthipath Kanittakul, was assaulted by several riot officers armed with batons and shields while live streaming the Nov. 18 protest. Despite the fact that Sutthipath was wearing a press armband, officers pushed him to the ground and struck him with batons as he lay prone. The assault was caught on camera

That day, about 200 protesters had planned a “Stop APEC 2022” march from the Democracy Monument to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, the summit’s main venue.

They were blocked by officers who then used violent tactics to disperse the crowd. Twenty-five people were arrested.

Riot police shoot rubber bullets at crowd protesting APEC (Video)

Among the five reporters injured was 28-year-old independent journalist Waranyu Khongsathittham. At around noon, Waranyu said that he was streaming for The Isaan Record when he was hit by batons and dragged away by riot police. He suffered a laceration to his head. 

Waranyu was taken that afternoon to the Samran Rat Police Station with others and charged with violating the public assembly law and resisting authority.

“I felt like my human dignity was being taken away,” Waranyu told Coconuts Wednesday.

Waranyu Khongsathittham shows a cut on his head after being assaulted by police at a Nov. 18 protest in Bangkok. Photo: Waranyu Khongsathittham / Courtesy

Waranyu said he would take legal action against the police in hope of pressuring the authorities to implement “proper measures” for handling protesters and journalists. 

In another incident, a glass bottle was thrown and struck a freelance photojournalist as she was taking photographs. Chalinee Thirasupa was struck in the right eye by a glass bottle thrown from the back of the police line.

‘Stop APEC’: Activists to protest against summit kicking off in Bangkok today

“My [right] eye was bleeding,” Chalinee said. “I received first aid from the medics and went to the hospital immediately. It could’ve caused more damage to my eye. The shard was only one millimeter away from my pupil.”

According to Chalinee, an eye doctor said the glass shard cut her eye and caused a subconjunctival hemorrhage and hyphema. Taking a two-week medical leave, Chalinee said it’s still unclear whether her eye will be affected in the long term.

Chalinee Thirasupa with a bandage over her right eye after she was hit by a glass bottle at a Nov. 18 protest in Bangkok. Photo: Chalinee Thirasupa / Courtesy

“I’m not sure if there will be more complications in the future,” she said. “My eye injury can lead to other conditions in the future like eye floaters or glaucoma. I have to keep having my eye checked by an ophthalmologist.”

Chalinee said she was still considering legal action against the police.

Three agencies The Thai Journalists Association, The Matter, and The Isaan Record have issued statements calling for the attacks to be fully investigated and those responsible brought to justice.

It was not the first time journalists have been attacked while covering the protests in Thailand. Working on the protest front lines, reporters have been hit by rubber bullets, tear gas, and chemical-laced water cannons. Just for doing their jobs, some have been targeted by ultra-royalists without legal consequence.

Bangkok cops fail to arrest ‘royalists’ who beat reporter

At a news conference earlier this week, police commissioner Gen. Damrongsak Kittiprapas said that clashes and scuffles at protests may sometimes “cause difficulty” for officers seeking to effectively control the situation. 

“The media needs to be careful and look after themselves, too,” said Gen. Damrongsak said at a news conference. “There were many reporters and YouTubers on the front lines, and some of them did not identify themselves as reporters. When there is a critical situation like this, mistakes can happen.”

Damrongsak said police will investigate the reports of injuries further. He said, if found guilty, officers who harmed journalists would be punished. 

A representative of the Thai Journalists Association said it was urging the Royal Thai Police to set up a committee to investigate the incident. Officers who used excessive force must be punished while those injured must be properly compensated. 

“We want to know what went wrong and how to prevent this from happening again,” said Teeranai Charuvastra, association vice president. 

Related

Riot police shoot rubber bullets at crowd protesting APEC (Video)

‘Stop APEC’: Activists to protest against summit kicking off in Bangkok today

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