Two Thai journalists arrested for reporting on temple vandalism

Police say journalists were charged with collaborating in vandalising an historical site in an incident last year.

Nattaphol Meksobhon, left, a reporter from the independent online news outlet Prachatai, and freelance news photographer Nattaphon Phanphongsanon were arrested on February 12, 2024 [Chalinee Thirasupa/Retuers]Published On 13 Feb 202413 Feb 2024

Two Thai journalists who were arrested for reporting about the vandalism of a temple in Bangkok with anti-monarchist graffiti have been released on bail, a lawyer’s group has said.

Nattaphol Meksobhon, a reporter from the independent online news outlet Prachatai, and freelance photographer Nattaphon Phanphongsanon were arrested on Monday, nearly a year after the incident in Bangkok.

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The Royal Palace police station, which made the arrests, said Meksobhon and Phanphongsanon were charged with collaborating in vandalising an historical site.

Nutthaphol wrote a story and Natthapon took a video of the incident, which was widely reported.

The offence is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a 700,000 baht ($19,600) fine.

The two arrested men have said they were only carrying out their jobs as journalists.

The charges involve a March 28, 2023, incident in which a 25-year-old activist spray-painted an anarchist symbol and the number 112 with a line through it on the exterior wall of the revered Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is in the Grand Palace complex.

The number 112 is a reference to the “lese majeste” law, which protects the royal family from criticism.

The Thai journalists association defended the two journalists and said they were concerned about “damaging media rights and freedom” in the country.

“It was necessary for journalists to cover the news,” it said.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on Tuesday that the government is “fair” on freedom of the press and said it is up to the police to determine what is appropriate.

“Everything depends on the law. There is no harassment,” he said.

The group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said the two journalists were held overnight at separate police stations after their arrests and were taken on Tuesday to Bangkok Criminal Court, where they were released on bail after posting a bond of 35,000 baht ($980) each.

The editor of Prachatai News said the journalists who covered the story went to the temple without knowing in advance that it would be graffitied.

“They were covering the news as journalists,” Tewarit Maneechai said.

He added that his colleagues were unaware of their charges before their arrest despite a warrant issued in May.

“Their arrests created fear about news coverage of sensitive issues,” he said. In the World Press Freedom Index in 2023, Thailand ranked 106 out of 180 countries.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Phawat Wattasupat, deputy superintendent of Phra Ratchawang police station, told the Reuters news agency that police had sufficient information to support their arrests.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies