JUST AS the global media community marked the International Day to End Impunity on Nov. 23, twin terrible assaults on freedom of expression hounded Asia this week

In Vietnam, a freelance journalist had been beaten unconscious on Nov. 25 by eight policemen who had arrested and detained him days earlier. He remains in critical condition.

In Thailand, a Bangkok military court, citing political use of Thailand’s lèse-majesté legislation, sentenced the editor of an online news website to nine years in prison.

According to Reporters Without Borders, freelance journalist Truong Minh Duc is still fighting for his life at the Hoan My Hospital in Ho Chin Minh City, where he was taken after being beaten unconscious by policemen in Thu Dau Mot, a town 20 km to the north, on the morning of 2 November.

Reporters Without Borders lamented “the brutality of the attack” on Truong Minh Duc, “who was ambushed by eight policemen and then beaten after trying unsuccessfully to flee into a nearby cafeteria.”

“Witnesses said the police continued to hit him repeatedly with a helmet after he lost consciousness,” it added. A relative said Duc “narrowly escaped death.”

Duc’s wife told foreign media that Duc “recognized some of his attackers as being members of the Binh Doung district police.” He identified one of them as “Colonel Hoa,” an officer who is said to have harassed him in the past. The motive for Duc’s attack is still not clear.

We are shocked by the brutality with which the police treat their fellow citizens,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “Such police violence against bloggers and citizen-journalists is common and is becoming more frequent throughout the country. So these are probably not isolated acts but the result of a terror policy instigated by the Communist Party.

Ismaïl added: “We call on the international community to lose no time in doing whatever is necessary to put pressure on the Vietnamese authorities to end this systematic persecution of those who defend freedom of the media and information.

Acts of violence and intimidation are common not only against journalists and bloggers but also those who support them, Reporters Without Borders said.

France’s consul-general in Ho Chin Minh City was attacked by police on 5 November when he tried to help Pham Minh Hoang, a blogger who was being harassed by thugs and plainclothesmen.

Vietnam is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, Reporters Without Borders condemned a Bangkok military court’s political use of Thailand’s lèse-majesté legislation to sentence a journalist critical of the military, Thai E-News editor Somsak Pakdeedech, to nine years in prison on 24 November.

“The court halved the nine-year term because Somsak Pakdeedech, detained since his arrest by soldiers three days after the 22 May military coup, pleaded guilty,” it added.

“The pretext for Somsak’s arrest was an article by an academic that he posted on the site in 2011. He was charged under criminal code article 112 on security offences, which says that any defamatory, insulting or threatening comments about the king, queen, crown prince or regent are punishable by three to 15 years in prison,” it said.

The offending article was written by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political science professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, who was forced to flee Thailand in February 2011 after being charged with lèse-majesté in connection with his book “A coup for the rich.”

Somsak had been in the military’s sights before their coup,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “We firmly condemn this sentence, which was a reprisal for his and his website’s anti-military views, and we demand his immediate release.”

Thai E-News, which aggregates political news from various online sources, has often been censored during periods of political tension. In July 2010, it was one of the so-called “pro-Red Shirt” websites that were blocked at the same time as the official Red Shirt party website, uddthailand.com.

It is currently being blocked again by the information and communications technology ministry but can be accessed from abroad.

Since seizing power on 22 May, the military seem to have been trying to bring online media and social networks under ever-closer control. Kathawut Boonpitak, the host of an online radio show, was sentenced to five years in prison on a lèse-majesté charge on 18 November. Reporters Without Borders condemns his sentences as disproportionate as well.

Thailand is ranked 130th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.


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