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The Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are calling on two warring factions in Thailand to end their targeted attacks on reporters and media outlets and allow all journalists to freely report on the current political crisis.

Anti-government protesters led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) occupied Bangkok's two main airports for more than a week, leaving over 300,000 people stranded. Although they declared victory and ended their airport occupation after a 2 December court decision forced the prime minister from office, their leader warned he's ready to call demonstrators back to the streets.

During the protests, numerous journalists and media outlets reported harassment, shootings and physical attacks by both PAD and the pro-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

In one incident, unidentified men fired grenades at the satellite television station ASTV office in Bangkok on 24 November, reports SEAPA. There were no injuries or serious damages, but four days later, another grenade attack on ASTV injured a newscaster. ASTV, owned by media mogul and PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul, has been broadcasting live, around the clock reports of PAD's rallies.

PAD protesters fired shots and threw a home-made bomb at the Bangkok studios of the pro-government station Taxi Radio 92.75 FM on 26 November, injuring two people, say CPJ and RSF. Bangkok's taxi drivers are a strong constituency for exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom the PAD strongly opposes. According to RSF, PAD security agents had beaten taxi drivers at the same spot on the previous day.

Meanwhile, on 25 November, UDD protesters surrounded the Chiang Mai-based offices of local Vihok radio station operator Therdsak Jiemkitwattana, an ASTV supporter, reports CPJ. The group dragged his father from his car when he approached the besieged station. He was beaten and shot dead.

According to SEAPA, reporters based at the airports complained that PAD protesters videotaped them doing their job, conducted physical searches and confiscated cameras and film, and pressed them to only report positive stories on their party. In one incident at Don Mueang, Bangkok's domestic airport, a photographer from the leading Thai-language newspaper "Thai Rath" was attacked on 28 November by PAD security guards after taking pictures of a PAD guard assaulting a man.

Alarmed by the series of attacks on journalists, TJA, along with The Press Council of Thailand, the Confederation of Thai Journalists, the Thai Broadcast Journalists' Association and the Association of Thai Cable Operators, issued a statement on 1 December calling on both the government and PAD to stop violent acts against journalists and allow them to perform their duties unhampered.

"These acts are unacceptable since they obstruct the work of the media and threaten the people's right to access to information. We appeal to protesters of all sides to stop these acts once and for all," said the groups.

The statement emphasised the need for media to be objective for their own safety as well as for the public's right to know. "No matter what the outcome of the current violence is, the media has a duty to report facts fairly so that the public is equipped with enough information to make its own decisions," the groups said.

"We, therefore, appeal to demonstrators to realise and understand the work of the media. Any group that attacks the media will not win public support," they added.

TJA has offered to distribute arm bands marked "Press" so that reporters are easily identified while doing their job.

Sondhi warned that PAD will return to the streets if political change doesn't happen. At least six people have been killed and dozens injured in clashes in recent months.

PAD had been trying to topple Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat for months, accusing him of being the puppet of his brother-in-law Thaksin. Thaksin was convicted of corruption and other charges after being ousted by a September 2006 military coup.

PAD claims Thailand's rural majority - who gave landslide election victories to the Thaksin camp mainly because of its generous social welfare policies - is too poorly educated to responsibly choose their representatives and says they are susceptible to vote buying. It wants the country to eliminate the system of one-person, one-vote, and instead have a mixed system in which most representatives are chosen by profession and social group.

With the court ruling that dissolved Thailand's top three ruling parties for electoral fraud and led to Somchai's resignation, the question of who will hold power in a democratic Thailand remains unanswered.

Visit these links:
- TJA:
- CPJ:
- RSF:
- IFEX Thailand page:
- AP:
(Photo: Protesters against the Thai government include ardent monarchists. Vincent Thian/AP)

(3 December 2008)

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