CPJ calls for investigation into murdered journalist

New York, August 6, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Thailand’s government to launch an independent investigation into the recent shooting death of Athiwat Chaiyanurat, a reporter with the Thai-language daily newspaper Matichon and a stringer for the army-owned Channel 7 television station. A local press freedom group said he had been threatened for his reporting.

Athiwat was found dead at his home on August 1 in the town of Chaiyamontri in the southern province of Nakorn Sri Thammarat. Police investigators quoted in the local media said that the reporter was shot twice, in the back and head, and that his murder took place at around 8 p.m. while he was cooking in his kitchen at home.

The Thai Journalists Association (TJA), a local press freedom group, said in a statement that Athiwat had previously received death threats and that his murder was likely related to his work as a journalist. The TJA noted that he had recently reported on local corruption as well as a police manhunt for an alleged assassin who had arrived in the area in the run-up to a local election.

“We join with the TJA in calling on Thailand’s national authorities to quickly bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Speedy prosecutions would send a strong message across the country that attacks on journalists will not be tolerated.”

Athiwat’s wife and son were outside of the house at the time of his murder and it wasn’t immediately clear if there were any witnesses to the crime, local news reports said. Nakorn Sri Thammarat is known for drug trafficking and a high crime rate. Apart from the insurgent-hit areas in Thailand’s southernmost provinces, it has one of the highest murder rates per capita in the country.

Another Matichon reporter, Sayomchai Vijitwittayapong, was shot and killed in Phichit city, central Thailand, in January 1998. He had received death threats and refused a bribe to drop reporting on corruption in the construction industry, according to CPJ research.