Thailand hasn’t fully investigated 2 journalists’ deaths during protests, press group says

By Grant Peck, AP
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thai probe of journalist deaths called inadequate

BANGKOK — Thailand’s government has failed to properly investigate the shooting deaths of two journalists killed while they covered recent political violence, and the perpetrators of those attacks should be brought to justice, a press freedom group said Thursday.

The Committee to Protect Journalists concluded in a seven-page report that both the government and protesters during March-May demonstrations “engaged in lethal recklessness that led to the deaths of two journalists” and injured nine other media members.

The New York-based group alleged that initial government investigations and even the autopsies of the two men were “incomplete and opaque” and that investigations by embassies, victims’ relatives and news organizations had been obstructed or denied access to information.

CPJ called on the government to complete the official autopsies and police investigations into the deaths, fully investigate cases of injured journalists and to open relevant information to independent probes.

According to the CPJ report, Sek Wannamethee, the second-ranking diplomat at the Thai Embassy in the U.S., said in a written response that the government regretted the loss of life and was committed to investigating fully and impartially.

CPJ cited some two dozen journalist witnesses to the violence in alleging government troops several times “fired in a random manner into crowds of apparently unarmed demonstrators, frequently in areas where reporters were present.” The witnesses also saw “heavily armed, black-clad protesters who fired gunshots and launched grenades at troops deployed in areas where journalists were positioned.”

Italian freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi, 48, was shot dead May 19 as troops moved to quash the 10-week protests in central Bangkok. The CPJ report said his family was dissatisfied at the government’s response, including a failure to provide an official autopsy report despite repeated requests.

The report said a similar lack of clarity attended the April 10 death of Hiro Muramoto, 43, a Japanese cameraman for Reuters. Muramoto was among about two dozen people who died in the first armed clashes between troops and the protesters. In all, nearly 90 people died, most of them protesters.

The report said that an investigation by Reuters found that Muramoto “was shot almost certainly by a high velocity bullet fired at street level while standing in a street between Thai troops and red shirt protesters,” contradicting an earlier government suggestion that a rooftop sniper on the protesters’ side was responsible.

CPJ also cited an unnamed Bangkok-based diplomat as saying the government refused to release closed-circuit television footage surveillance of the April 10 violence that might shed light on Muramoto’s death.

The report also called for the government to lift censorship of the media that was imposed under a state of emergency declared during the protests.

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