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Two supporters of the monarchy charged with assaulting independent photojournalist Natthaphon Phanphongsanon have been sentenced to 2 months in jail and a fine of 5000 baht.

The CCTV footage of the attack

At around 21.35 on 22 April 2022, Natthaphon was attacked by a group of men near the Democracy Monument as he was leaving on his motorcycle after photographing a protest earlier in the afternoon.

Natthaphon said that he had been sitting in the nearby McDonald’s and was approached by the men as he was about to leave. They asked him if he was a reporter and to see the pictures on his mobile phone, but he refused and was subsequently attacked. He then ran back inside the McDonald’s.

The Thai Media for Democracy Alliance (DemAll) was able to access the CCTV footage from the McDonald’s. The footage shows a man approaching Natthapon and another two men who then surrounded him shortly before the attack took place.

Nattaphon sustained injuries on his shoulder and arm, but his head was not injured as he was wearing a safety helmet.

He filed a complaint with Chana Songkhram Police Station later that night. However, as he was trying to access the CCTV footage at the McDonald’s, two men in private clothes armed with pistols and claiming to be police officers approached him, asking him not to collect the footage and instead go to see a doctor.

The two left the scene as Natthaphon’s friend made a phone call to the police station responsible for the area to ask whether they had dispatched officers or not, and the answer was no.

Two days later, on 24 April 2022, the pro-monarchy group Vocational Students Protecting the Institution went live on Facebook. Benyaphakon ‘Ben’ Wikhabamphoeng, a member of the group, said on the live video, which is no longer accessible, that he attacked Natthaphon, but claimed that he did not believe Nattaphon was a journalist as he refused to present a press ID or show his mobile phone. He also claimed that he was defending himself because Natthaphon was taunting and was calling friends over to attack him.

CCTV footage, however, shows that Benyaphakon started punching Nattaphon as he stepped down from his motorcycle and walked away.

On Wednesday (1 March), the Dusit District Court found Benyaphakon and Pairat Witoonjit guilty of assault and sentenced them to 4 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht. Because they confessed, the court reduced their sentence to 2 months in prison and a fine of 5000 baht.

The court suspended Benyaphakon’s sentence for 2 years, putting him on probation and requiring him to report to the court every 4 months. Meanwhile, Pairat is facing 10 other assault charges, so the court did not suspend his sentence. He was later granted bail to appeal the charge.

Nattaphon said after the verdict was read that, while he did not expect the sentence to be severe, he was surprised to learn that the sentence is so light given the intention of his attackers. He also said he found it questionable that the court granted bail to the second defendant in the case, who is facing a total of 11 assault charges, while activists who conducted public polls about political and social issues have been denied bail and held for several months in pre-trial detention.

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