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Broadcast journalists Varunee Suesatsakulchai, Somphote Thoraksa and Sathien Viriyapongsa assaulted, harassed during demonstration

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Three Thai broadcast journalists were assaulted in separate incidents by opposition demonstrators dubbed the "Red Shirts" during a massive protest rally in Bangkok on 9 April 2009 meant as a final bid to pressure the government of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the King's close aides to resign.

According to the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the demonstrators accused the broadcast journalists of unfair reporting. The reporters denied this charge.

In the first incident, at around 11:00 a.m. (local time), Channel 3 reporter Varunee Suesatsakulchai was heckled and pelted with plastic water bottles by angry protesters as she was reporting live near the residence of Privy Counsellor General Prem Tinsulanonda. Security guards at the demonstration escorted her to the Channel 3 van parked nearby. The van was later surrounded by demonstrators for 40 minutes before policemen dispersed them. The protesters also punctured the tires of two of Channel 3's vehicles.

Demonstrators also attacked Channel 7 reporter Somphote Thoraksa and his crew, who were also in the vicinity, accusing them of erroneous reporting. Somphote, who denied the accusation, was forced to leave the area along with his crew.

Meanwhile, a middle-aged female protester screamed at Nation News Agency reporter Sathien Viriyapongsa because he allegedly made a false report about the rally. He had to leave the area when he saw a larger crowd of protesters approaching him.

Leaders of the demonstrators denied responsibility for the attacks and instead blamed saboteurs.

TJA Vice President Wanchai Wongmeechai and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) President Korkhet Chantalertlak expressed concern over the attacks. "The incidents create a climate of fear and anxiety among journalists who are covering the demonstration," Korkhet said.

Korkhet appealed to the demonstration leaders to respect the journalists' work.

Wanchai also urged the leaders of the demonstration and the police to provide concrete safety protection measures for journalists covering the rally. At the same time, he urged the reporters covering the rally to report without bias and to exercise caution.

In anticipation of the demonstration-related violence, TJA earlier distributed journalists' safety booklets to members of the media covering the event and provided them with water bottles and clothes in case police used tear gas to disperse the mob.

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