Thailand dismisses role in Reuters photographer’s death

New York, March 24, 2011–A Thai police investigation concluded today that government security forces did not kill Reuters photographer Hiro Muramoto, left, during political violence in Bangok on April 10, 2010. But the Committee to Protect Journalists, expressing concerns that the investigation was not transparent, has called for a full, independent investigation into the Japanese journalist’s death.

Tharit Pengdith, director-general of Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation, told reporters today that agency officials “have to conclude for now that government forces did not kill Mr. Muramoto until there is new evidence to say otherwise.” Tharit told journalists that unless new evidence can be found within a year, the case may be closed, local and international media reports said.

In a statement, Reuters News Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler called on the Thai government “to conduct a thorough, considered, objective and transparent investigation of his killing. Muramoto-san’s family and Reuters colleagues deserve to know how this tragedy occurred and who was behind it.”

The Thai military, which was responsible for controlling demonstrations in Bangkok in April and May 2010, has repeatedly denied responsibility for any of the 91 deaths that occurred during the violence. But the government has declined to disclose evidence in the Muramoto case and others. CPJ has repeatedly called on the Thai government to make public closed-circuit footage in its possession that shows the area where Muramoto was believed to have been working at the time of his death.

Muramoto, 43, was shot in the chest in Bangkok’s Old Town area while covering armed clashes between security forces and red-shirted protesters with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship. The findings announced today contradicted preliminary government findings that Muramoto was struck by gunfire coming from a direction where troops were positioned.

“We’ve expressed fears of a whitewash in the past, and this most recent development underlines our reasons for concern. While the government’s investigation into the shooting death of Hiro Muramoto technically remains open, we question the intention of the government to carry out a full, independent inquiry,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

In a July 2010 investigative report, “In Thailand unrest, journalists under fire,” CPJ concluded that both security forces and protesters had engaged in reckless behavior that contributed to the deaths of Muramoto and Fabio Polenghi, an Italian freelance photographer, and the wounding of nine other journalists.

Reuters, reporting from Bangkok, quoted Police General Ek Angsananond as saying: “Based on what we have received (from the DSI), there is not yet any conclusive evidence or witness accounts to show that the authorities were responsible. We have sent the report back to the DSI, which will continue with the investigation. If they find more and want us to look at it again, we will do so.”