A month has passed since police officers stomped and beat reporters while dispersing an APEC 2022 protest. Calls for an investigation by media associations have met with little progress.
In this file photo from 29 November 2022, protesters in front of the U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai hold up images that depict the police crackdown on the 18 November protest.
“Not a single soul has contacted me”, said Chalinee Thirasupa, a media photographer whose right eye was pierced by a glass shard from a bottle thrown at her from behind the police line.
She was injured on 18 November 2022 while taking photos of a clash between Stop APEC protesters and crowd control police units at Dinsor Road, about 8 km away from the APEC 2022 Summit venue.
A video shows the bottle shattering on the hood of a police pickup truck parked near where the photographers were standing. A piece of glass pieces ricocheted straight into Chalinee’s face. A hospital scan later showed that the impact left a 6-mm wound on the sclera of her right eye, just one millimetre away from the pupil. A single millimetre saved her from a severe eye injury, if not the loss of her eyesight.
Chalinee was one many photographers and journalists who were injured and suffered damage to their belongings while covering the protest that day. The incident included an overt act of police brutality; a group of riot police shoved one reporter from the MATTER to the ground, beating and kicking him. One was overheard threatening him, “you’d better watch it; I am the real deal.”
Since that day, wounds have healed. Despite a police spokesperson’s vow to set up an internal investigation, those injured in the episode have yet to be informed of responsibility.
Nowhere near a conclusion
Since that day, media representatives - notably an editor from the MATTER, Chalinee, and a delegate from the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) - have continued to demand an explanation from the police.
Their efforts resulted in an admission by a police spokesperson to a Parliamentary committee that the crackdown was done before the police obtained a Court order, a legal procedure necessary for a protest dispersal. Despite this, there has been no indication of anyone being held liable or subject to punishment.
On 21 December 2022, Teeranai Charuvastra, Vice President for Press Freedom and Media Reform, led a group of TJA representatives to the Royal Thai Police Headquarters to submit a petition to the Police Chief, demanding an internal committee be set up to investigate the police’s action toward the media on 18 November.
Pol Maj Gen Archayon Kraithong, a police spokesperson, came out to receive the letter. He said the petition would be passed on to an already-established fact-finding committee over the incident. He also said that the people and the petitioners would be informed of the committee’s findings.
Teeranai, the TJA vice president for rights, liberties, and media reform, said the aim of the submission was to find a way for media workers to operate in such circumstances without having to risk injury. He added that scrutiny was needed to find and fix mistakes.
According to Teeranai, there have been several talks between TJA and the police over media safety, but problems continue to arise when journalists cover protest sites.
20 people were reportedly injured during the police’s dispersal on 18 November. The most severe case was Phayu Boonsophon, an activist whose right eye was blinded by the police’s rubber bullet.
At least 4 members of the press were also injured. Several were hit by crowd control police shields and batons, one was assaulted by a group of crowd control officers while livestreaming the protest, and a photographer was hit in the head with a fragment of a glass bottle thrown from behind the police lines. A citizen journalist was also assaulted and arrested.