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Thailand February 23, 2005
H.E. Thaksin Shinawatra
Office of the Prime Minister
Thanon Nakhon Pathom
Kingdom of Thailand
Fax: (011.66.2) 280-0858
The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) writes to express serious concern for press freedom in Thailand, particularly in the wake of the fatal shooting of journalist, Pongkiat Saetang, who was murdered by gunmen on February 15 near a market in Had Yai in the Songkhla Province.
There is evidence to believe Saetang was targeted as a journalist for his work as editor of the
bi-monthly newspaper, Had Yai Post. The assailants shot Pongkiat twice in the back while he was riding his motorcycle near Thungsao Market at around 8:30 a.m., according to The Nation newspaper, which quoted local police. The Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance reported that Pongkiat was pronounced dead on the scene, and the gunmen fled by motorcycle.
The 54-year-old editor was known for his scathing opinions about local political corruption.
He had written about how his stories angered local leaders. His reporting prompted anonymous telephone threats, according to his wife, Suchin Saetang. “Any journalist…who writes about corruption and nepotism will feel in danger if the police do not shed light on this case and consider all possible motives,” Reporters Without Borders warned in its letter to Thai Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula.
The International Federation of Journalists, which represents 500,000 reporters in 110 countries, joined the chorus of protest. “We are outraged by this cruel and cowardly attack and demand that immediate steps are taken to find those responsible and swiftly bring them to justice” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
The OPC joins The Thai Journalists Association and the Southern Journalists Association of Thailand, to which Pongkiat belonged, in condemning Saetang’s murder, and we call on your leadership and the Thai national police to conduct a fair and open investigation into the case.
The OPC also would like to know the progress of the unsolved murder of journalist, Surapong Ritthi, who was killed on February 11, 2003. A man who followed him into a grocery store near the famous Patong beach and shot him twice in the head before fleeing killed Ritthi, 43, a correspondent for the national daily, Thai Rath, in the southern province of Phuket. The journalist had written about illegal activities in the local entertainment and gambling industry.
These murders are a paramount concern. But, in a similar vein, we are disturbed about the seeming change in attitude that your administration has taken to press freedom in your country. In a May 2004 speech to Thai reporters, you said, “You media people have to believe me…Today, serving the country is more important than sending your news dispatches daily to your editors. Think before you do anything that damages the country.”
Your Excellency, your country will be best served by ensuring that its people are fully informed, and we media people remain convinced that our daily dispatches serve precisely that purpose.
With scores of nations from around the world rallying to the critical needs of Tsunami Relief, we believe this is a perfect opportunity for you to demonstrate your commitment to the fundamental principles of professed freedom — in addition to upholding Thailand’s longstanding legal and constitutional protections for the media.
We look forward to your response.
Bill Collins Larry Martz
Freedom of the Press Committee
cc: Sakthip Krairksh
Ambassador of Thailand to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Kingdom ofThailand
1024 Wisconsin Avenue, NW (Suite 401)
Washington, DC 20007
Fax: (202) 944-3611
The Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Thailand
to the United Nations
351 East 52nd Street
New York, NY 10022
Fax: (212) 688-3029
Darryl N. Johnson
U.S. Ambassador to Thailand
Embassy of the United States of America
120 Wireless Road, Bangkok
Fax: (011.66.2) 254-2990
The Editor, The Bangkok Post
The Editor, The Nation