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MOB OCCUPIES STATE TV, BOMBING KILLS REPORTER

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) condemned a mob occupation of a state-run television station in Bangkok on 26 August 2008. The attack happened during a week of mounting anti-government protests, in which thousands of protesters have camped out at the prime minister's compound, calling for his dismissal.

SEAPA said the National Broadcasting Television (NBT) was raided by 2,000 masked and armed men identified with the opposition People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who denounced the station as a government mouthpiece. Electricity was cut, forcing journalists and other NBT staff to suspend their work and broadcasts. Within hours NBT began broadcasting from an older station it owns in downtown Bangkok, and protesters reportedly left its main premises later in the day.

In a joint statement, the TJA, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA), the Confederation of Thai Journalists (CTJ) and SEAPA said, "The mob action is one of the gravest and most blatant assaults on media freedom to date. The media was threatened, intimidated and kept from performing their duty."

While respecting Thais' constitutional right to peaceful assembly, the journalist groups declared that protesters should "equally respect the right and freedom of the media to perform their duty which is guaranteed under the same constitution."

PAD has held weekly protests in Bangkok since late May, hoping to repeat its success two years ago when demonstrations led to a military coup against then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. PAD sees Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who won subsequent elections under a new constitution, as a proxy for Thaksin.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that PAD is led by Sondhi Limthongkul, owner and founder of the Manager Media Group and the private ASTV satellite station. ASTV has covered the protests live and without interruption.

In other news, reporter Chalee Boonsawat of the largest Thai-language daily, "Thai Rath", was killed while covering an explosion in restive southern Thailand on 21 August. A second reporter, Phadung Wannalak of Thai TV Channel 9, was seriously injured, CPJ reported, when a car bomb apparently targeted the scene of a previous blast in Sungai Kolok on the Malaysian border.

Many in Thailand's predominantly Muslim southern provinces share ethnicity and cultural heritage with neighbouring Malays rather than the Buddhist majority. CPJ says a long-simmering separatist movement gained momentum in 2004, leading to almost daily acts of violence. Thai groups say several journalists have been injured, but Boonsawat was the first to die.

Visit these links:
- Joint Action: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96447/
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2008/asia/thai26aug08na.html
- Reporter killed: http://tinyurl.com/6ozxn7
(27 August 2008)

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