Italian journalist killed as conditions deteriorate in Thailand

New York, May 19, 2010—Freelance Italian photojournalist Fabio Polenghi was killed and three international journalists were among dozens of people injured today during clashes in Bangkok, according to international news reports. The fighting followed a military operation to clear an area occupied for six weeks by anti-government protesters. Demonstrators attacked and threatened local media outlets for perceived government bias in the ensuing disorder, while officials ordered that TV stations air only government-issued news bulletins, the reports said.

Thai troops using live ammunition broke through barricades erected by the “Red Shirt” protesters around the makeshift camp before dawn and announced they had gained control of the area nine hours later, according to The Associated Press. Polenghi, 45, who had been on assignment in Thailand for three months for a European magazine, was shot in the stomach and died at a local hospital, according to AP. The magazine was not identified in the report. A Dutch, a Canadian, and an American journalist were also wounded during the clashes, according to international news reports.

Groups of protesters torched several buildings and targeted news outlets they said were biased towards the government. The offices of the state-run Channel 3 TV station were set afire with staff still inside, trapping around 100 employees on the roof until they were rescued by helicopter, Reuters reported. Other media outlets, including the Bangkok Post and the Nation newspapers, received threats from protesters and evacuated their offices, according to news reports. Thai authorities censored independent news broadcasts, ordering TV stations to air only officially sanctioned reports, and imposed a 10-hour curfew starting at 8 p.m. in an attempt to restore order, the reports said. 

“Fabio Polenghi is the second journalist to die covering this unrest,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “This raises serious concerns about the awareness of both security forces and protest organizers of their obligation to ensure the safety of journalists. The Thai authorities must investigate this latest tragic death in an independent and timely manner to determine those responsible and bring them to justice.”

Local media said Chandler Vandergrift, a freelance Canadian writer and photographer, was seriously hurt in a grenade attack, according to AP. Dutch journalist Michel Maas was being treated in a local hospital for a gunshot wound to the shoulder he received while reporting for Dutch national TV, according to Agence France-Presse. An unnamed American documentary filmmaker was been shot in the leg, news reports said.

CPJ is investigating the death of a Japanese journalist, Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto, who was shot and killed during armed conflict between the government and protesters on April 10. Three other journalists were shot and injured on May 14. CPJ’s full Thailand coverage is available online.