Thai journalists, news outlets in the line of fire

Bangkok, January 21, 2014–The state of emergency imposed today by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinwatra threatens to curb media coverage of recent anti-government protests in the national capital, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. The decree was passed in the wake of a double grenade attack on the site of a protest on Sunday that injured a Thai reporter, among 27 other citizens, according to local press reports.

Nine people have been killed and hundreds injured since anti-government protests started in early November, The Associated Press reported. The protesters are demanding Yingluck’s resignation to make way for an appointed government that would implement political reforms. The prime minister called for national elections on February 2.

The state of emergency will cover Bangkok and surrounding areas for 60 days in a bid to curb further violence, according to international press reports. The decree includes broad and vague legal provisions that allow for press censorship in the name of maintaining security, local reports said. In the past, authorities have chosen to interpret this language as a means to shut down stations, block websites, and jam satellite signals.

The previous Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government used emergency rule to close down opposition media outlets, including community radio and satellite TV stations, CPJ research shows.

“Thai authorities are failing in their duty to protect journalists reporting on protests,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “CPJ is concerned that today’s imposition of a state of emergency will open the way for government suppression of the media, rather than the protection of it.”

Sitthinee Huangnark, a reporter with the Post Today local-language daily newspaper, was hit by shrapnel from the second explosion while she was reporting on the first blast, which detonated near Bangkok’s iconic Victory Monument, according to the reports. She sought treatment at a hospital for injuries to her hip and is in stable condition, the reports said.

An anonymous assailant threw the first grenade at around 1:30 p.m. near a protest stage maintained by the People’s Democratic Reform Council, an anti-government group campaigning for the resignation of Yingluck’s caretaker government. Local TV stations and newspapers carried images and videos captured on a nearby security camera of the first grenade being thrown.

The unknown assailant threw the second grenade from an elevated pedestrian crosswalk while being pursued by protest guards, according to the reports. The suspect shot and injured one of his pursuers before fleeing on a motorcycle, according to the reports. Police have not yet identified or arrested any suspects in the attack.