Updated: April 05, 2021 07:23 AM GMT
Members of the red shirt political movement take part in an anti-government rally in Bangkok on April 4. (Photo: AFP)
The hounding of a female journalist by Thai authorities has highlighted the absence of media freedom in the country, observers say.
During a press conference last week, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha started ranting at Kamonthip Aungsakularporn, a Thai reporter who works for the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun, taking issue with the way she sat, which he found objectionable.
“Can you not put your leg down?” Prayut berated the female reporter during the presser. “You’re crossing your legs like that before me. Can you? Your leg. Your foot. Eh?”
Kamonthip was then barred from entering Government House for future press briefings.
Government spokesperson Natreeya Taweewong explained the decision by saying Kamonthip had been banned because she had been spreading misinformation.
“I verbally requested [her] news agency to train her on publishing [fake news],” Natreeya said. “And I asked them to suspend her from reporting inside the Government House until her behavior improves.”
It also transpired that a few days earlier Kamonthip had been threatened at gunpoint by a policeman in riot gear during an anti-government protest where she and other reporters were told by police to move back and stand on the sidewalk.
“I asked why I was not being allowed to document [happenings] and why they needed to use guns to clear the area,” Kamonthip told a Thai newspaper.
“I stopped recording and got onto the sidewalk, and one of the police officers came to talk to me. The same police officer who was in the video with the gun came in very close and I felt something hard on my shoulder. When I looked I saw the muzzle of the gun pointing at me.”
During the pro-democracy protest in question, dozens of young demonstrators were arrested in what many observers see as Thai authorities’ increasingly heavy-handed crackdown on dissent.
Over the past few months several journalists have also been victims of riot police action during frequent demonstrations.
Some suffered injuries after being shot with rubber bullets while a few were detained and charged with breaking an emergency decree that bans larger gatherings.
Kamonthip and other reporters say these tactics are being employed by the government to try and stop media professionals reporting on anti-government demonstrations, which have been taking place for nearly a year.
“I feel the police view us as a real obstacle in doing their job even though we are doing our own job. I think the police do not understand where we are supposed to be and what we are doing,” the reporter said.
“They should also learn when to use their weapons because, even with rubber bullets, you are not supposed to aim at the upper body or at any members of the press, who are not part of the conflict.”
Prayut, a former army chief who has been Thailand’s prime minister for nearly seven years, seized power in a coup in May 2014. Under his tenure various basic freedoms have been rolled back, including freedom of the speech and media freedom, according to rights groups.
In its latest global report Freedom House, a US-based group that advocates for political freedoms and human rights, downgraded Thailand’s status from “partly free” to “not free.”
Prayut’s government “continues to restrict civil and political rights and suppress dissent,” Freedom House said.
During a recent press conference Prayut, annoyed by a reporter’s questions, sprayed several journalists with alcohol from a bottle used for disinfecting hands. The move was widely seen as disrespectful to the media.