Italian Killed by Military Bullet, Thai Court Says
By Daniel Ten Kate & Suttinee Yuvejwattana – May 29, 2013 2:18 AM ET
A Thai court said a military bullet killed an Italian photojournalist during 2010 protests, the first ruling involving a foreigner as authorities seek to determine how more than 90 people died in the demonstrations.
Fabio Polenghi was among two foreign journalists shot and killed while covering military assaults on anti-government protesters in Bangkok. Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and a deputy face murder charges for authorizing soldiers to use weapons against demonstrators backed by ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra who wanted immediate elections in May 2010.
“I am satisfied with the court result,” Karom Ponpornklang, a lawyer for Polenghi’s mother, told reporters after the ruling. “Fabio’s mother is also happy that she finally knows the cause of her son’s death. There are many parties who show interest to bring this case to an Italian court. Still, we need to discuss that later.”
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra led her party to victory in a vote 14 months after the protests, the fifth straight win for allies of her brother Thaksin and the seventh loss in a row for Abhisit’s Democrat party dating back to 1992. Her party is considering amnesty for some demonstrators involved in tit-for-tat protests since Thaksin’s ouster in a 2006 coup and is pushing to change the military-influenced constitution.
The bullet that killed Fabio was from an M-16 gun, which is consistent with the weapons used by soldiers on May 19, 2010, the court said. It is unclear who fired the bullet, it said.
Karom said he will take the inquest report to the Department of Special Investigation and file a complaint against former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who was involved in overseeing the operation.
Courts have ruled on nine of the 94 deaths from the 2010 protests. The military was held responsible for six deaths, and three were inconclusive. A further 14 inquests are under way, including for the death of Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto, according to a local group monitoring the cases.
Abhisit has denied wrongdoing in the crackdown and said soldiers acted in self-defense when setting up live-fire zones around the protest site. An emergency decree in place during the protests provides him with immunity if the actions weren’t discriminatory or disproportionate, he said in a January interview, adding that a court confirmed that armed people were among the protesters.
“I’m willing to face the charges and fight and prove my innocence in court,” Abhisit said on Jan. 21. “And I will respect the verdict.” Abhisit took power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court dissolved the ruling party for election fraud.
The DSI, an agency under the Justice Ministry, has charged leaders of the pro-Thaksin protest group known as the Red Shirts with terrorism and initiated cases against about 300 of its members for crimes including arson.
In a May 19 rally in Bangkok to commemorate those who died, Red Shirt representatives asked Yingluck to issue an order that would grant amnesty to people who face charges related to the protests, except for demonstration leaders.
“However, the culprit who ordered the killing of more than 90 peaceful protesters must be punished to the full extent of the law so that this hideous crime will never again be committed in the future,” Red Shirt leader Tida Tawonseth said in a statement. “No more Thais should ever again be shot down in the streets for their political interest.”
Polenghi, 48, was wearing a blue helmet with the word “Press” written across the front and back, and a green armband indicating he was a working journalist, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“Fabio was a peaceful man, and I believe in peace,” Elisabetta Polenghi, Fabio’s sister, told reporters in Bangkok before the verdict. “My brother was very deeply involved into what was happening. He was emotionally involved.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com