Police defend media arrest

Police defend media arrest

A police spokesman attempted to make peace with the press on Tuesday after protests that riot police arrested two photographers during tear gas attacks near the Pitak Siam protest last Saturday.

National police spokesman Piya Uthayo denied saying the two cameramen were detained "because they were shooting a violent incident and doing so violated people's rights".

Media groups on Saturday claimed that Pol Maj Gen Piya defended the arrests with such a statement, but the spokesman strongly denied he ever had said such a thing.

The statement by media groups said police used excessive force and threatened the working freedom of media members who were carrying out their duties during a clash Saturday morning between riot police and protesters, during which tear gas was fired and thrown at Makkhawan bridge.

The statement called on all parties, especially police officers, to respect the rights of members of the press.

Pol Maj Gen Piya denied that the two men were arrested because of their work, calling this a "misunderstanding".

He submitted his letter clarifying the allegation to the media groups, along with a CD containing audio files of his interview and footage of the major events in the protest.

"I want to again assert that police respect [the rights of] every member of the press," said Pol Maj Gen Piya. "I reassure you that we take responsibility for all the remarks given in all statements and they are based on facts and legal provisions."     

Police arrested 138 protesters including ASTV Manager photographer Santi Tehpia and Thai PBS cameraman Pattanasak Woradet during the morning clash. All but one were released without charges within 24 hours.

Mr Santi and Mr Pattanasak said they were beaten by officers who mistook them for Pitak Siam protesters. They were dragged to a police anti-riot truck which later would be driven to the Region 1 Border Patrol Police camp in Pathum Thani province.

They tried to show their press ID cards after being locked up in the truck but they said police paid no attention. The two were released later, after fellow reporters looked for them and vouched for their identities with authorities.

Mr Pattanasak said officials had not issued any warning before they threw the tear gas at the anti-government supporters. 

Media personnel were told to wear green armbands issued by the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) while covering the Pitak Siam protest. But the two photographers were wearing yellow armbands issued by rally organisers, meaning police might have mistaken them for protesters who tried to break down the barricades and some of them also wore yellow armbands and headbands of protest.

Pol Maj Gen Piya said that during the clash, several protesters claimed to be press but failed to show their IDs.

"And this time will be a lesson for the next operation," he said. "Signs to identify media staff must be made clearer."

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