Prachatai reporter and freelance photographer arrested for covering graffiti vandalism

Nutthaphol Meksobhon (second from right)

Update 15.50

A Prachatai reporter and freelance photographer have been arrested after they covered an incident in March 2023 where an activist sprayed graffiti onto the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

On Monday, Nutthaphol Meksobhon, a Prachatai reporter, was arrested for being an accomplice in damaging a historic site and vandalizing a wall in a public place. The arrest resulted from him covering the incident on 28 March 2023 when a 25-year-old activist sprayed an anarchist symbol and the number 112, with a strike through it, onto the wall of the Temple. A freelance photographer, later identified as Natthaphon “Yha” Phanphongsanon who covered the same incident, was also arrested. They were among several reporters at the scene.

The arrest warrant

The arrest warrant for Nutthaphol, dated 22 May 2023, was issued at the request of Pol Lt Col Silpachai Yommai, an inquiry officer from the Grand Palace Police Station. Nuttaphol did not receive a summons prior to being arrested. His lawyer revealed that more arrests would be made, but the police did not reveal any names.

After the two arrived at Royal Palace Police Station, the entrance was blocked off by police officers. After recording the arrest report, both of them denied the allegation, and they were not allowed bail. The inquiry officers insisted that the lawyer file bail applications with the court.

The Royal Palace Police Station after Nutthaphol was taken there

Subsequently, Nutthaphol was transferred to Chalongkrung Police Station while the photographer was transferred to the Thung Song Hong Police Station. They were taken to the court for a temporary detention request today (13 February).

Tewarit Maneechai, Prachatai’s editor-in-chief, asserted that both of them went to the scene to cover the news and this was not equivalent to supporting wrongdoing. “In fact, our stance is that we are not a party to the dispute. We wanted to present the facts as they happened,” noted Tewarit. 

Thai Media Democracy Alliance released a statement in response to the arrest, saying that journalists are not criminals. Reporting news is a legitimate duty of the press. Whether political activities are within the scope of the law or not, they can be covered without any legal offence being committed by the media.

“We condemn the actions of the state authorities who are exercising power in a way that imposes offences in a sweeping manner, violating the rights and freedoms of the press. And we call for the unconditional release of the Prachatai reporter and freelance photographer as soon as possible,” according to the statement.

On Tuesday, The lawyer filed a petition against the detention and urged the court to investigate the detention request made by the inquiry officers. The lawyer also said that the evidence presented by the inquiry officers is not sufficient to prove that the two journalists committed the offences.

The court ordered a temporary detention for 12 days and rejected the lawyer’s request, referring to the inquiry officers' claim that the case is in the process of witness examination and fingerprint recording. The lawyer filed a bail petition with the court.

Nutthaphol and Natthaphon were later granted bail with a security of 35,000 baht each without any conditions.

Nutthaphol Meksobhon and Natthaphon Phanphongsanon after being granted bail

After being released, Natthaphon told the media that he met with the activist on the day he went to cover a different incident, noting that he treated the activist as the news source. He remarked that he was informed 10 minutes in advance before the incident in question happened.

"I am sure that I went to cover the news, not to interfere with the official duty," he said.

Meanwhile, Nutthaphol, the Prachatai reporter, also emphasized that he went to cover the news and not to express support for the activity, adding that despite this situation, he is determined to carry out his duties as usual.

Since 2007, Prachatai English has been covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite the risk and pressure from the law and the authorities. However, with only 2 full-time reporters and increasing annual operating costs, keeping our work going is a challenge. Your support will ensure we stay a professional media source and be able to expand our team to meet the challenges and deliver timely and in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: [email protected], please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”