As reported here, a tightening of censorship measures by the Myanmar junta followed the September 2007 crackdown in that country. The regime evidently did not want the whole story about the crackdown -- which may have been far more deadly than initial reports suggested -- to spread.
How to account for the hastily-implemented censorship of dozens of websites following the army crackdown in Thailand? What are we to make of claims that casualties in Bangkok were higher than has been officially acknowledged? Might the answers to both questions be connected? Is this déjà vu?
The Thai government claims there were no fatalities during the army crackdown against the Red Shirt protesters last week. For the most part, the Thai news media has not questioned the government's assertion.
However, Australian blogger John Le Fevre of Photo Journ recently interviewed a Thai monk who claimed to have firsthand knowledge that the Thai government's version of the story is incorrect (hat-tip Fonzi). Sajja, his actual name and face concealed, described only as the "head monk of a city temple," told Le Fevre that he went to "the Din Daeng area around 6.00am on April 13 after hearing reports of clashes earlier that morning between the Thai army and red shirt protesters." Sajja said:
“I was standing about 200 meters away and the soldiers started shooting at people who were on the street. They were not wearing red shirts and there was no protesting happening at the time.
“I saw people falling down when the army was shooting at them and others run away. One of those who fell down was a monk and there was also some children there. I don’t know which temple the monk was from. I saw the soldiers pick about 10 people up off the ground and load them into a large pale-blue, almost white coloured van and then they hosed the blood off the road,” he said.
Le Fevre says the monk told him that the people who were loaded into the truck made no sound that he could here.
Blogger Fonzi of Thailand Jumped the Shark has long been skeptical of the Thai government's account of the crackdown. Fonzi has pointed to the Thai government's decision to censor dozens of websites associated with the Red Shirts movement which he listed here (via Prachatai). Concerning this list Bangkok Pundit observed, "They are .... the same sites which have been providing video and pictures alleging government wrongdoing." Also odd, notes Fonzi, was this report in the Bangkok Post:
Security agencies are keeping a close watch on a group they suspect of feeding lies to international media outlets on the recent red shirt riots.
Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn said members of the group had left the country in recent days to disseminate a "different version of events and accounts" to the international media.
"What are they afraid of?" asks Fonzi.
To return to the monk's allegations, Le Fevre knows of three video reports (here, here, and here) that were taken by Thai TV networks around Din Daeng in Bangkok. The first one, according to Le Fevre, "appears to substantiate claims of people being at least injured at Din Daeng by the Thai military." Concerning the question of unreported killings, Bangkok Pundit suspects that media silence on fatalities could be due to the relative absence of reporters present "during the initial crackdown before 5am." Referring to the video Le Fevre described, BP blogged: "There is at least one instance on video of the military taking away people during that crackdown who did not appear to be moving (see at 1:40 onwards in this YouTube video)." Watching the video over on a large screen, BP is not convinced the people are motionless and therefore likely dead. Might one of the trucks in the video be the "large pale-blue, almost white coloured van" described by the monk? Here is the video:
BP also points to a Bangkok Post report that stated that police were "investigating claims that two men whose bodies were found gagged and bound in the Chao Phraya river were red-shirt protesters." Many Thai police had been quite sympathetic to the Red Shirt protesters, whereas the army tends to be most supportive of the government, and was responsible for the crackdown.
The truth tends to get out. If protesters had been shot and killed, it would seem to be in the government's interest to come clean about what happened. Thailand surely does not want to be mistaken for Myanmar.
IPS (h/t BP) reports that a senior television journalist in Thailand told IPS on the condition of anonymity: "My boss was told by a powerful person not to run pictures damaging to the military or to the government."
New Mandala blog has just posted The crushing of the red shirts by Nick Nostitz. Essentially, it is a war correspondent's eyewitness, blow-by-blow account of violent clashes and protests on the streets of Bangkok during late March and early April. Here is what Nick had to say regarding the question as to whether the army killed some Red Shirt protesters:
Red Shirts are convinced that a number of their members have been killed (and I have strong suspicions that they are not too wrong in this assessment, but have no evidence or proof whatsoever). The government has to organise an official and neutral inquiry. And it has to stop lying that only fake bullets were used, and only fired into the air. I have photos of bullet holes, where I have seen soldiers firing. The bullet that passed a few meters above my head in the leaves of a tree under which I was hiding in the early hours at Din Daeng was not a fake bullet or sprung out of my imagination, and given the distance and angle of the shooter from the military lines, the difference of the elevation of the muzzle was not more than a few centimeters. This was clearly a shot fired in the direction of the crowd and not into the sky. I have seen soldiers refilling their magazines with copperhead bullets. They were not fake bullets.Also of interest were some of the things Nick heard about on the street; his observation about the strong animosity that developed between Thai journalists and the Red Shirts, and how he thinks the tension got out of hand.
I produced a summary of some insights I gleaned from reading Nick's extraordinary story here. This list will surely make you want to go to New Mandala to read the whole post.