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Watchdog slams Thai army, protesters over media casualties

The Thai military and "Red Shirt" protesters exposed the media to "mortal danger" during violent street protests in Bangkok that left two journalists dead.

world Updated: Jul 09, 2010 11:50 IST

The Thai military and "Red Shirt" protesters exposed the media to "mortal danger" during violent street protests in Bangkok that left two journalists dead.

The army failed to act with the "required restraint" to protect members of the media, Reporters Without Borders said in a report released on July 8.

Italian freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi and Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto of the Thomson Reuters news agency were among 90 people killed when anti-government protests descended into bloodshed in April and May.

The group said that some of the witnesses and victims it interviewed believed journalists were targeted during the violence, in which 10 members of the press were also injured.

"Some of their accounts clearly show that Thai soldiers put civilian non-combatants, including journalists, in mortal danger and respected no rule of engagement," it said.

"They did not try to prevent journalists from covering the events, but the rules of engagement and the lack of professionalism on the part of the soldiers led to serious incidents that could have been avoided," the group added.

Its report, "Thailand: Licence to Kill", also found that armed Red Shirts "deliberately exposed Thai and foreign journalists to mortal danger".

It called for any Red Shirt leaders found responsible for violence against the press, as well as troops that fired on properly identified members of the media, to be punished.

The report called for the results of investigations into the deaths of Muramoto and Polenghi to be made public as soon as possible.

It also urged the Thai authorities to provide financial compensation to journalists wounded in the violence, some of whom it said sustained injuries "from which they will never fully recover".

Media groups were also urged to improve safety training for journalists and ensure people working in dangerous situations had suitable equipment, like bullet-proof vests and helmets.

Most of those killed were civilians, while nearly 1,900 people were injured during a series of clashes triggered by the rally, which came to an end with a deadly army crackdown on May 19.