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Media beset by violence and state of emergency

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is extremely concerned about the impact on press freedom of the political violence and state of emergency in Thailand and reiterates its appeal to all parties to respect and guarantee the work of the press.

"The gravity of this crisis reinforces the need to respect the free flow of news and information, without which rumour will triumph over fact," the press freedom organisation said. "But the violence and the state of emergency are exposing Thai and foreign journalists to a level of threats that is without precedent since the return to democracy."

A Japanese cameraman was injured in the bombings that occurred on 22 April 2010 in Bangkok's Silom district. His name and the name of his media are not yet known.

A French journalist based in Bangkok said the conditions for foreign reporters had worsened in recent days. Bangkok-based correspondents have little training in covering "conflict zones." Foreign journalists have been injured by stones and water bottles thrown by participants in political demonstrations. Unaware of the risks, foreign tourists have also been "covering" the protests in the hope of being able to sell photos or video footage of the clashes.

More and more journalists are wearing helmets for protection or T-shirts provided by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) for identification.

Reporters Without Borders deplores the decision by the "Red Shirts" to ask journalists to wear a green armband with the words "Dissolve parliament."

The press freedom organisation also condemns the harassment to which TV journalist Thapanee Ietsrichai has been subjected since reporting on Twitter that some soldiers had prevented the police from going after those who may have been responsible for the 22 April bombings.

Reporters Without Borders is also surprised by a court ruling upholding the government's censorship of PTV, a station that supports the anti-government "Red Shirts." The judges ruled that the state of emergency gave this power to the authorities.

A similar decision was issued on 23 April in the legal action brought by Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the editor of the independent news website Prachatai, against several senior government officials demanding damages because the site has been blocked since 7 April and demanding the lifting of the blocking order on the grounds that it is illegal under article 47 of the constitution, which protects the dissemination of information and opinions. The court ruled that the authorities had not exceeded their powers under the state of emergency.

The acts of media censorship and intimidation are affecting the Internet and the list of banned websites is growing even longer. On 23 April, on the orders of the state of emergency administrative centre, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies (MICT) approved the closure of another 350 websites, in addition to the 190 sites recently blocked and the 36 that were blocked on 7 April.

This brings the number of closed websites to 2,500. Most of the sites now banned had links with the "Red Shirts" and carried photos and video of their demonstrations, but some were independent news websites.

Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to restore access to the censored news websites without delay and to close media only after verifying that they contain calls for violence and after following the normal judicial procedures.

The press freedom organisation also urges the Thai authorities to show the utmost transparency in the investigation into the death of Japanese journalist Hiro Muramoto, the findings of which are supposed to be released on 26 April. "The Japanese authorities must be allowed access to all the information that has been gathered by the investigators," Reporters Without Borders said.

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