Updated: September 20, 2021 06:32 AM GMT
Riot police prepare to go after protesters on a motorbike after clashes near Government House in Bangkok on Sept. 19. (Photo: Anadolu via AFP)
A prominent association of journalists in Thailand has condemned a move by police to impose onerous demands on media professionals covering anti-government protests or face arrest.
Thai police have issued several conditions for journalists to cover street protests past a 9pm curfew, including a letter of permission obtained from police officials authorizing them to report on rallies in Bangkok.
Journalists are also required to have a government-issued press card and a letter of assignment from their news agency, which can be hard to obtain for many of them, especially freelancers.
“This is an onerous set of requirements for what should be routine media work,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) said in a statement posed on its Facebook page late last week.
“It is unacceptable that journalists should face the threat of arrest and prosecution while doing their jobs, simply because they cannot meet all these bureaucratic conditions.
“The FCCT urges the police to review their rules for post-curfew reporting, and to recognize that there are genuine journalists reporting on the streets who may not be able to get all the documents they are asking for, and who should not be arrested face any criminal charges.”
Among their demands, protesters have been calling for new constitutional limits to be imposed on the monarchy
In recent weeks several journalists were detained during youth-led street protests and charged with various crimes such as breaking a curfew in Bangkok that debars people from being outdoors between 9pm and 4am as part of a Covid-19 mitigation measure.
Journalists have also been roughed up and tear-gassed by riot police, who have taken a hardline stance against youth-led street protests by demonstrators calling on the military-allied government to resign after more than seven years in power.
The government, led by former army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha, seized power in a coup in May 2014 and consolidated its hold after elections in 2019 that were rigged in favor of the ruling junta, according to numerous observers.
The frequent street protests against Prayut’s rule have received large-scale coverage in local media outlets, yet much of the coverage has been circumscribed by legal limits such as a draconian lese majeste law that prohibits journalists from airing any criticisms made in public of Thailand’s royal family.
Among their demands, protesters have been calling for new constitutional limits to be imposed on the monarchy, a taboo topic among conservatives in Thailand where the royal family is portrayed as an inviolate pillar of the nation.
Even before the current nighttime curfew came into effect months ago, several journalists were arrested in Bangkok while covering anti-government protests. They were charged with crimes such as breaking an emergency decree that prohibited forming or attending larger gatherings.
After a Thai journalist was arrested and fined late last year in central Bangkok for reporting on a violent police crackdown on peaceful protesters, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) issued a statement calling on Thai authorities to stop harassing media professionals.
“The introduction of this emergency decree continues to result in an unjust restriction of press freedom and hazardous conditions for journalists on the ground,” the IFJ said.
“The IFJ urges the Thai government to guarantee the continuing safety and rights of journalists, allowing impartial coverage of these national protests.”
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