Newspaper reporter shot, killed in Thailand

New York, January 12, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for a thorough investigation into today’s killing of a newspaper reporter in the Thai city of Phuket.

Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot Wisut “Ae” Tangwittayaporn four times through the windshield of his car during morning rush hour, according to international and local news reports. Wisut had covered a series of controversial land claims for the newspaper Inside Phuket, which he also owned, news reports said. Police told local journalists that they were conducting an investigation to determine if the journalist’s recent reporting was a possible motive.

“We condemn the brutal killing of Wisut Tangwittayaporn,” said CPJ Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz. “We urge the authorities to do their utmost to investigate this murder and bring the perpetrators to justice. Thai journalists must be allowed to work freely without fear of reprisal.”

News accounts reported that just after 9 a.m. today, two gunmen wearing sunglasses fired a 9 mm pistol through the windshield of Wisut’s black Honda Jazz as he was waiting to make a turn on to a main road. The journalist’s wife, Jiraporn Hosakul, was in the passenger seat and was unharmed in the attack. Wisut died at Vachira Hospital later this morning, news reports said.

Wisut was the first to report on suspected fraud in the issuance of a title deed at Phuket’s Freedom Beach, according to news website Phuket Wan. He was the leader of a community group that opposed the private use of part of the beach, The Phuket News reported. The journalist was scheduled to visit the beach with a group of journalists and officials on Friday.

Chote Chidchai, a police colonel and district chief, told Agence France-Presse that it was “too soon to say” what the motive in the killing was. Other police officials said they were trying to determine if Wisut’s reporting on Freedom Beach and other controversial land claims was behind his murder, news reports said. Phuket Provincial Police Deputy Commander Pornsak Nuaanhu told the Phuket Gazette that police were also investigating gambling debts and romantic conflicts as possible motives.

Wisut was also an activist with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, known as red shirts, a political group that formed in 2006 to oppose a military coup that overthrew former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.