Statement on the arrest of a Prachatai reporter Nutthaphol Meksobhon

On 12 February, the police arrested a reporter and a photographer for “being accomplices” in damaging a historic site, based on the fact that they covered an 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 of the Emerald Buddha. One of those arrested was Prachatai reporter Nutthaphol Meksobhon. His arrest warrant was issued on 22 May 2023 and had never received a summons prior to being arrested.

When he was arrested, Nutthaphol was restrained with cable ties. While in police custody, he was detained at Chalongkrung Police Station and the photographer was held at Thung Song Hong Police Station, both of which are far from Phra Ratchawang (Royal Palace) Police Station, under whose jurisdiction the charges against them were filed. During the past week, the arrest of Nutthaphol led to criticism of both the authorities and Prachatai.

The Prachatai editorial team has issued the following statement:

  1. Nuttaphol’s coverage of the incident is in line with professional standards and Prachatai’s code of conduct.
  2. Nutthaphol had been given permission by the Prachatai editor to follow the lead sent by the activist and to cover the activity, both on 27 March 2023 when the activist cancelled the activity and on 28 March 2023 when the incident in question took place.
  3. Regarding Nutthaphol’s employment status, he remains a full-time Prachatai reporter.
  4. Prachatai will cover all of Nutthaphol’s legal fees throughout the process.
  5. Prachatai will use every possible channel, including the judicial process, to demand justice for Nutthaphol and to protect Nutthaphol’s work and reputation.

An argument can be made that members of the press can make mistakes and that the media can be investigated through the normal processes. We agree with the view that the media can do wrong, and we encourage the public to be critical towards the media. However, we believe that making an arrest 9 months after the warrant was issued and without first issuing a summons is not a normal investigation process. Allowing such charges to become a new standard will also impact the process of news coverage, particularly for field reporters, photographers, and media practitioners.

Not only was press freedom violated in the case of the reporter and photographer. Recently, members of the press have faced Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Those facing such lawsuits include full-time media professionals, independent media professionals, and citizen journalists or members of the public exercising their right to publish information. The latter groups are particularly vulnerable, often facing threats and physical assault.

Prachatai calls on media professional organizations, human rights protection agencies, members of the press, as well as members of the public to be aware of the situation and not to allow these procedures to become a standard or a new normal that limits press freedom and the public’s freedom of information, since this will affect not only media professionals but also the citizens who receive information or who wish to become communicators themselves.

“Press freedom is the people’s freedom”
Prachatai editorial team
21 February 2024

 

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