Thailand: Release journalists unconditionally

Thailand: Release journalists unconditionally - Civic Space

Prachatai reporter Nutthaphol Meksobhon and freelance photographer Natthaphon “Yha” Phanphongsanon were arrested on 12 February for allegedly being complicit in damaging a historic site and vandalising public property.

“The arrest of a journalist strikes at the heart of democracy, revealing the fragility of Thailand’s commitment to freedom of speech and press freedom,” said Senior Director of Programmes David Diaz-Jogeix at ARTICLE 19. “When the very individuals tasked with shining a light on societal issues are silenced through intimidation and coercion, the pillars of democracy begin to crumble, leaving citizens in the dark and vulnerable to unchecked power.”

On 28 March 2023, Bang-oen was tackled by police officers while he was spray painting the walls outside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha with the anarchy symbol and the numbers ‘112’ with a strike through it, a demonstration of protest towards Section 112 of the Criminal Code. Nutthaphol Meksobhon and Natthaphon “Yha” Phanphongsanon were journalists at the scene among several reporters but were the only ones to have received an arrest. Tewarit Maneechai, Prachatai’s editor-in-chief, clarified that their presence at the scene was solely for reporting purposes, reaffirming their commitment to journalistic ethics and integrity.

The arrest warrant for Nutthaphol was issued on 22 May 2023 without prior summons, and he was subsequently denied bail. Both journalists were transferred to different police stations and later taken to court on 13 February for a temporary detention request. After recording their statements, where they denied all allegations they are accused of, they were not allowed bail. The investigating officers insist that their lawyers file a bail application with the court. Following public outcry and legal proceedings, both journalists were eventually granted bail at 35,000 baht (approx. 970 USD) each.

“Arresting journalists for reporting stories of interest to the society not only obstructs the flow of information vital to public awareness but also undermines the fundamental tenets of a free and independent press,” said David. “It is imperative to uphold the principle that reporting on events, regardless of their nature, should not render journalists susceptible to unwarranted persecution or legal reprisal.”

These incidents underscore the urgent need for human rights reform in Thailand to ensure the safety and freedom of journalists. The harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists not only undermine press freedom but also indicate a broader trend of closing civic space in the country. It is imperative for the Thai authorities to uphold international standards of human rights, safeguard the rights of journalists, and foster an environment where media can operate without fear of reprisal.