The Department of Sluggish Investigation's Probe Into Protests' Deaths

Note: This post has been originally published on August 25, 2010 in series of guest blogger posts for Bangkok Pundit at AsianCorrespondent. The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) held a press conference on Monday to inform about the progress of the inquiry of the 91 deaths during the anti-government protests. What they have announced though leaves much to be desired.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) says it cannot at this stage reach a finding in its investigation into the deaths of 91 people killed in the violence between April 10 and May 21 during the street protests by the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

This was announced at a press conference on Monday by Col Fuangwich Anirutthewa, secretary to the justice minister, and Pol Col Narat Savetnant, deputy director-general of the DSI.

Pol Col Narat said the DSI has so far received 266 cases from police involving the violence between April 10 and May 21.

From its preliminary investigation into the 91 people who died it could be concluded at this stage only that the deaths were unnatural and caused by other persons under Article 148 of the Criminal Procedures Code.

The DSI knew only what caused their death and types of weapons used, but could not yet say who killed them.

"Little progress in red probe", Bangkok Post, August 23, 2010

First of there's the question on how they come up with the figure of 91 deaths during the protests. Looking at the official figures form the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service indicate that according to this list (PDF) published on May 23, 86 people have were killed. But this document show 87 names of the dead with the last victim being dated on May 14, five days before the last day of the protests and of the street battles. It appears that not included are the six people killed inside Wat Pathum, a designated safe zone many protesters fled to after the red shirts dispersed on May 19, but were still shot inside the temple. So how do these numbers all add up to 91?

And then there was this very interesting detail made during the announcement:

Autopsies on 89 Thais, including 11 policemen and soldiers, confirmed that all had died from bullet wounds.

"Investigators fail to identify killers of foreign journalists", Deutsche Presse Agentur via The Nation, August 23

Again a considerably spectacular claim by the authorities, if you think about that various sources claim different causes in various cases such as the death of Col. Romklao Thuwatham during the clashes on April 10, as he was reportedly killed by a bomb. On the other hand though other news sources have reported that the DSI "had received only 42 autopsy results from officials in each jurisdiction," (Source) so it is highly possible that all the 42 autopsies report that they all have died from bullet wounds and the rest might have from other causes as well.

Another focus of the announcement were the deaths of the two foreign reporters, Japanese Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto and Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi.

In the deaths of two foreign journalists, Reuters Japanese cameraman Hiro Muramoto, 43, and independent Italian press photographer Fabio Polenghi, 45, Pol Col Narat said investigators could only conclude they were killed by high-velocity bullets. They have not been able to identify their killers.

However, it could not yet conclude who fired the weapons due to lack of witnesses at the scene, and some of their belongings such as mobile phones and digital cameras had disappeared. [...]

He said the DSI had paid special attention to the two cases since they were delicate and could affect Thailand's relations with Japan and Italy.

"Little progress in red probe", Bangkok Post, August 23, 2010

It is delicate indeed, as on the same day the Japanese foreign minister was on a visit to Thailand and also visited the site Muramoto died.

He was shot in the chest during the clashes on April 10, at Khok Wua intersection, not far from the Democracy Monument as the last pictures on his camera filmed the carnage between soldiers and red shirts.

Fabio Polenghi was killed during the final push of the military onto the red shirts protest site at Rajaprasong on May 19. German journalist Thilo Thielke has published his and his colleagues' investigation into the death of the Italian at New Mandala. Key excerpts of this very detailed account include...

On 21 May, two days after the Fabio’s death, the Police Forensic Institute did a forensic examination. The day after, Fabio Polenghi’s body was cremated in a simple and emotional ceremony attended by his younger sister Isabella, his friends, and his colleagues. Three months later, the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) – the “Thai FBI” – which is in charge of the investigation of Fabio’s killing, still refuses to publish the forensic report. “The investigation is not finished yet”, says Colonel Naras Savestanan, the deputy-director general of DSI. He says he cannot answer basic and crucial questions such as those about the kind of bullet which killed Fabio, the angle and distance of shooting and the location of the killer. Other important questions deal with the location of military sharpshooters who killed many demonstrators on that day as well as the location of the mysterious Black shirts – the armed wing of the Red movement. But also here, the questions find no answers. Or only very vague ones. (...)

“It is more likely that the Italian journalist has been hit by fire from advancing soldiers at the ground level, on Rajdamri road. I cannot see clearly why sharp shooters would particularly target him”, says a journalist who was on the military side on Rajdamri on 19 May. The type of bullet which killed Fabio, if it is revealed publicly someday, is not the most crucial element as Black shirts and military personnel have used some similar weapons. The most important elements are the entry point of the bullet, the description of the wound and the shooting angle, which could cast some light about the location of the shooter. Without these data, there will be no certainty on the identity of who killed the Italian journalist.

"Who killed Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi?", by Thilo Thielke, New Mandala, August 17, 2010

There's still much yet to be investigated and there's still much unknown about the circumstances of the victims. But initially the DSI announcement revealed basically nothing new. We already knew that the two foreign journalists were shot, we already knew that nearly all of the victims died unnaturally and we also already knew that the authorities' inquiry into the deaths will be sluggish at best and will have to do much more in order to convince us that, as they said it, "truth will be established" - but will the public also fully know about it once the investigations have concluded?