CPJ sends letter of inquiry regarding journalist’s murder

New York, February 14, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today sent a letter of inquiry to Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra urging his government to ensure a thorough investigation into the murder of reporter Surapong Ritthi, who was killed on February 11 in southern Phuket Province.

Several of the journalist’s colleagues in Phuket believe that Surapong may have been killed in reprisal for his reporting, but the motive behind the murder remains unconfirmed.

Surapong was shot dead at around 3:00 a.m. while he was leaving a grocery store in Patong Beach, a popular tourist destination Phuket. The journalist worked as a local stringer in Phuket for the national newspaper Thai Rath, the regional newspaper Siang Tai, and the independent, national television station Channel 3. He also owned several businesses in Phuket, including a bar and restaurant and a shrimp farm, according to the Thai Journalists Association.

Police said that in his capacity as a reporter, Surapong would likely have been aware of illegal dealings in the area, and that they are investigating many possible motives behind the killing. One focus of the police inquiry is Surapong’s reporting on illicit activities at a Patong Beach nightclub, a story that local journalists say may have led to the reporter’s murder. Surapong had reported that the nightclub featured nude dancers, prompting a police raid that resulted in the bar’s closure.