Reuters cameraman killed in Thai political violence

New York, April 12, 2010The Committee to Protect Journalists is saddened and outraged by the fatal shooting of Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto during armed exchanges between government soldiers and antigovernment protestors on Saturday. Muramoto, left, a Japanese national, was shot in the chest while filming an early-afternoon confrontation and was pronounced dead at a Bangkok hospital, according to local and international news reports.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has urged the Thai government to launch a probe and has instructed its Bangkok-based embassy to create an emergency task force to investigate Muramoto’s death. Because both soldiers and protestors were armed and opened fire during Saturday’s melee, it is unclear whether government forces or protesters from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) fired the fatal shot.

Muramoto was working and carrying a video camera at the time of the shooting.

“The death of journalist Hiro Muramoto brings into tragic relief both the government’s and protest groups’ failure to ensure the safety of journalists covering their ongoing street confrontations,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program director. “This killing cannot go unaddressed. We call upon the Thai government to launch a genuinely independent probe into Hiro Muramoto’s death and quickly bring the perpetrators to justice.”

One of Muramoto's final images shows a confrontation between troops and protesters in Bangkok. (Reuters/Hiro Muramoto)
One of Muramoto’s final images shows a confrontation between troops and protesters in Bangkok. (Reuters/Hiro Muramoto)

Muramoto, 43, a 15-year Reuters veteran, had been dispatched to Bangkok from Tokyo to help cover Thailand’s escalating political conflict. He was among at least 21 people killed, including 16 protestors and four security agents, amid violent running street battles on Saturday. Another 900 were reported injured. Muramoto’s final footage can be seen here.

“I am dreadfully saddened to have lost our colleague Hiro Muramoto in the Bangkok clashes,” said Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger in a statement. “Journalism can be a terribly dangerous profession as those who try to tell the world the story thrust themselves in the center of the action. The entire Reuters family will mourn this tragedy.”

The government’s violent crackdown came just days after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency and security forces were mobilized to block the signal of the UDD-aligned People’s Television (PTV) satellite news station and 37 Web sites for reasons of national security. Local media quoted government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn as saying that PTV’s broadcasts were often inaccurate and caused instability.

PTV was censored during Saturday’s street confrontations, but there were no reports of censorship of international media coverage. UDD protestors converged on and successfully pressured the ThaiCom communications company, which is situated north of Bangkok and uplinks the station’s signal, to restore the broadcasts on Sunday.

UDD leaders were quoted in the local print media over the weekend complaining that state-controlled television media did not feature footage of slain protestors during their news broadcasts of Saturday’s violence. According to the local English-language The Nation, UDD leader Somchai Phaibool on Sunday pressured state media reporters to leave the protest site by leading thousands of demonstrators to boo and chant against their presence.

Protestors later surrounded a mobile broadcast unit of local Channel 3 and chased its reporters out of the protest area, according to The Nation. Unidentified assailants on motorcycles also launched two grenade attacks against state-owned television news stations—Channel 5 and NBT—on March 27.