CPJ Blames Both Sides for Journalist Deaths, Finds Investigation Lacking
Shawn Crispin and the Committee to Protect Journalists have released the results of an investigation into the deaths of two journalists, Fabio Polenghi of Italy and Hiro Muramoto of Japan, over the course of the violent repressions of the Bangkok protests. The report is reminiscent of other international assessments, such as the important International Crisis Group report, in its judicious balance and generalized blame for reckless violence. It is stated clearly that CPJ observed the Thai military firing live ammunition indiscriminately into unarmed crowds, while also citing the presence of armed black shirt militias firing upon army positions.
One of the most important conclusions to be gleaned from the CPJ report is the confirmation that the government’s investigation into these deaths – not to mention the deaths of the other 90-some civilians – have been unlawfully deficient. The failure to investigate, which constitutes a violation by Thailand under international law, is a core argument of our White Paper and previous letters to involved parties. CPJ states, “Preliminary government investigations into the violence have been incomplete and opaque, as have the autopsies of the two journalist victims, CPJ has found. Private investigations launched by concerned news organizations, foreign embassies, and family members of the deceased have been obstructed or denied access to key information in the government’s possession. Thus far, no one has been brought to account for the killings and the other critical injuries.”
In excerpts cited below, it is furthermore suggested by CPJ that the Thai government has actively obstructed the investigation:
Polenghi’s family has expressed concerns about the government’s opaque response to his death. His sister, Elisabetta Polenghi, told CPJ that her family has repeatedly requested, but has not received, an official autopsy report. She said there are conflicting accounts from police and the Justice Ministry about the precise location of her brother’s wounds, which she did not see herself before his body was cremated. She also noted that many of Polenghi’s personal belongings, including his camera and telephone, are now missing. Such contradiction and obfuscation have fueled her fears that Polenghi could have been targeted for being a journalist.
She and a group of Polenghi’s colleagues have pieced together video clips—some received from journalists who were in Polenghi’s vicinty, others downloaded from unknown sources on the Internet—to develop a timeline of movements before and after the shooting. There is no known footage of the shooting itself. One video clip shows that an unidentified man wearing a silver helmet was the first to reach Polenghi after he was shot. The brief footage shows him feeling around Polenghi’s chest and briefly jostling with his camera, while another unidentified man wearing a yellow helmet kneels and takes his photograph. (…)
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn did not respond to questions from CPJ on the Polenghi shooting, including the assertion that soldiers were firing indiscriminately, or on details of the other shootings. Sek Wannamethee, deputy chief of mission for Thailand’s embassy in Washington, responded broadly to CPJ’s concerns in a June 14 letter that said the government regretted the loss of life and was committed to investigating the deaths fully and impartially.
The pattern of obstruction also appears on the Muramoto death:
One Bangkok-based diplomat with knowledge of a separate private investigation claimed that the government has in its possession, but has refused to release, closed circuit television footage of the Din Saw Street area where Muramoto is believed to have been around the time of his death. He said that the monitoring camera was situated on a pole outside of a local school and that its recorded contents could provide important clues about Muramoto’s death.
One theory pursued but not conclusively proven by private investigators is that Muramoto was shot while positioning himself to take footage of a UDD protester who was on the ground after being shot in the head. The protester was hit in the same area Muramoto was believed to have been killed approximately 10 minutes later. Muramoto had continued filming until shortly before he was killed, but his camera was off at the time of his death, according to Szep.
A CPJ source familiar with one private investigation into Muramoto’s death claimed that the government is “dragging its feet” in finalizing the results of its forensic investigation. He noted that a Bangkok Post report published in late April quoted a forensics official saying that Muramoto was most likely killed by a soldier’s bullet. As of July, the government still had not released the full results of the official autopsy.
The same source, who has knowledge of details of the investigation, said the military has declined to make soldiers believed to have been near Muramoto available for interviews with private investigators. In particular, the investigators unsuccessfully sought access to a soldier who had asked Muramoto to descend an armored personnel carrier the reporter had climbed up to gain a heightened perspective.
Lastly, I think it is important to republish and spread CPJ’s recommendations here, which I fully agree with.
The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the government of Thailand to:
- Complete the official autopsies and police investigations into the shooting deaths of Fabio Polenghi and Hiro Muramoto. Undertake thorough and impartial investigations into the wounding of nine other journalists, including Nelson Rand and Chandler Vandergrift. Where criminal liability is found, file charges and prosecute the perpetrators. Where military forces acted outside accepted standards, subject the individuals to military discipline.
- Cooperate with independent investigations probing the circumstances surrounding the killing and wounding of journalists. Where no legal impediments exist, disclose the results of official autopsies and police investigations. Make available all closed circuit television footage and other relevant forensic evidence now in the government’s possession.
- Refocus the duties of the main government-appointed fact-finding panel to include bringing to justice the perpetrators of violence against journalists.
- Repeal the state of emergency in effect in Bangkok and 15 other provinces and stop censoring media, including online publications, for national security reasons.
- Ensure that military forces take all reasonable precautions to prevent unnecessary risk to journalists covering political unrest
In conclusion, it seems apparent from the CPJ’s experience in attempting to collect information from the government of Thailand that there is a reticence of cooperation, which is certainly unhelpful in their attempt to appear innocent of wrongdoing during this period of violence. Adding to the current environment of hostility, repression, censorship, and intolerance for free speech, Thailand is becoming a very dangerous place for the work of journalists – and this ongoing failure and refusal to investigate undermines any improvement to their safety.