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For the past two weeks, photojournalist Natthaphon Phanphongsanon has been continuously harassed by police officers, who were stationed in front of his condominium and who coerced the building’s management into giving them information about him and CCTV footage of his activity.

CCTV footage of plainclothes officers visiting the management office at Natthaphon's condominium on 2 April.

Natthaphon, who works for the online media platform Spacebar, said that plainclothes officers claiming to be from the Metropolitan Police Division 5 have been following him and watching his condominium since early April. He also said that the officers used threats to force the building’s management into giving them information, including his room number, information on his vehicles, and mail he received, as well as CCTV footage of Natthaphon leaving and returning to the building.

Natthaphon said that starting from 3 – 5 April, he saw a bronze Honda car with dark windows, which he has never seen before, parked in the condominium’s parking lot when he was leaving for work, and men were taking pictures of his motorcycle. On 4 April, he saw the same car parked at the condominium’s loading area, usually off-limits to residents since it would obstruct delivery trucks. The car was still parked there, with its engine running, when he returned from work at around 22.00 – 23.00 that night.

After parking his motorcycle, Natthaphon decided to hide nearby to see what would happen. He said he saw a man gett out of the car and take photos of his motorcycle.

The bronze Honda Natthaphon said was parked at his condominium while officers monitor his activity.

Natthaphon saw the same car again the next day, parked behind the guardhouse near the entrance. When he returned from work at around 2.00, the car was still there. He decided to take pictures of the car, saying he was unhappy that the men were taking pictures of his motorcycle. The car then drove out of the condominium, leading to his suspicion that the men inside were monitoring him.

The car did not return the day after, on 6 April. However, Natthaphon noticed more CCTV cameras in front of a restaurant near the condominium’s entrance, one of which is pointed towards the building entrance.

Two CCTV cameras placed in front of Natthaphon's condominium, likely since 6 April.

Because he started to feel unsafe, Natthaphon went to the local police station to file a complaint, but the police told him he could not do so and could only make a report because no crime has been committed even though the men were taking pictures of Natthaphon and his motorcycle.

Natthaphon took a copy of the report he filed with the police to his condominium’s management, who then told him that plainclothes officers from the Metropolitan Police Division 5 came to their office on 2 – 3 April and told them that they wanted information about Natthaphon and asked to go up to his room. The building management asked about a warrant, but the officers claimed they were in the process of requesting one.

The officers instead presented two documents, issued by the Metropolitan Police Division 5’s Investigation Sub-division, one requesting information on Natthaphon’s room and vehicles, claiming that he is on a watchlist. Another document requested CCTV footage from 1 – 2 April, stating that the Metropolitan Police were investigating political protesters and asked for the footage for law enforcement purposes.

CCTV footage of a plainclothes officer at the condominium on 3 April. 

The management employee told Natthaphon that, when they told the officers they could not give them information because it is personal information and the building is a private area, the officers threatened them, saying that the information is needed for an important case and the employee would be breaking the law if they do not provide the requested information.

Because the management did not want to get into trouble with the police, an employee went to take a picture of the front of Natthaphon’s room for the police, who then left after telling the management that they would return the next day with a warrant.

However, when the officers returned the next day (3 April), they did not bring a warrant and continue to threaten the management and asked for CCTV footage of Natthaphon coming and going from the building and whether anyone had visited him. The police also told the management that plainclothes officers would be stationed at the building day and night to monitor Natthaphon’s activity. The management told Natthaphon they could not refuse the officers, because they would be stationed around the building, which is not private ground. The officers also warned them not to tell Natthaphon they were monitoring him.

Prachatai contacted Pol Snr Sgt Maj Sombat Songthani, a squad leader from the Metropolitan Police Division 5’s Investigation Sub-division, about the police operation, but was told that the police needed to check the document before giving a response.

At around 18.20 on 13 April, Natthaphon went live on his personal Facebook page. The broadcast showed two men, one wearing a sports t-shirt and another wearing a blue shirt, at his condominium. The two men later said they were police officers, but did not say which division they were from.

Natthaphon said that when he arrived at the condominium on his motorcycle, he noticed one of the men taking pictures of him, so he took a picture of them in return. The officer wearing the sports t-shirt then approached him and started insulting him, calling him a psycho for taking pictures of other men. Natthaphon said that the officers made him feel unsafe. They were rude and threatening towards him, and one even licked his phone camera.

Natthaphon then started live broadcasting out of safety concern, so the officers stopped insulting him. They told management personnel that they were just following up on cases before leaving the building.

Natthaphon being chased by a police officer after he photographed the arrest of an activist spray-painting protest symbols onto the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha on 28 March.

Natthaphon speculated that he was being monitored because he often covered political protests, and noted that the harassment became more frequent after he photographed an activist being arrested for spray-painting an anarchist symbol and the number 112 with a strike through it, signifying a protest against the royal defamation law, onto the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha on 28 March.

Natthaphon said that while he was photographing the incident at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, he was chased by a police officer who tried to seize his camera to delete photos on the memory card.  The officer did not have a warrant or charge Natthaphon with anything, and the photojournalist did not give his camera to the officer or delete his photos, insisting that he was working and had committed no crime.

Being monitored made him felt unsafe, Natthaphon said, since at first he did not know who was following him and why they were doing so. He also said that the police monitoring while he has not committed a crime could make other people at the condominium, such as security guards or housekeepers, suspicious of him.

Nevertheless, Natthaphon said he now feels more driven to do his job.

“Since you don’t like it, I’ll do even more, because I didn’t break the law. You can arrest me, but you can’t, because I didn’t commit a crime, but you’re just dissatisfied with what I do,” Natthaphon said.

“I’m a journalist. My job is to present the news, so I’ll do it more and more often.”

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