Thailand journalist death: More criticism of DSI probe

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 2, 2011 The most recent findings of Thailand's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) that the death of Japanese cameraman Hiro Muramoto during the clashes in Bangkok last April was not caused by the military draws more criticism (see our most recent coverage here and here). Both the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reuters have voiced their concern about the findings and have pointed out the contradictions.

The DSI claims to have found "AK-47 bullet wound patterns" on Muramoto's body and since the Thai military is officially not using this rifle, they absolved the soldiers of any fault - despite contradicting a previous report that the Reuters cameraman was killed by a shot after "gunfire flashed from the direction of soldiers". Furthermore, there have been rumors that this comes after the army's chief of staff paid the DSI a visit to protest the previous finding.

Shortly after the announcement on Sunday, the Bangkok Post reported via a source how the DSI actually came to this conclusion:

The source said that while Pol Lt Gen Amporn might be providing advice to the DSI, he was not among the people who observed the autopsy to determine the cause of death of Muramoto. He was overseas at the time. Pol Lt Gen Amporn only analysed the cause of Muramoto's death from photos of the wounds on his body and concluded that the wounds were caused by an AK-47 rifle.

The panel itself had concluded that Muramoto was hit by two bullets fired from a high velocity gun, once in the head and the other in the heart, the source said. Given the pattern of his gun wounds, it was believed he was shot dead by a sniper, and normally snipers use an M16 rifle, not an AK, the source said.

The panel did not reach a conclusion about the exact type of weapons used in the killing of Muramoto and the other people because no bullets were found in any of the examined bodies, the source said.

"No firm view on AK-47 role in deaths", Bangkok Post, January 28, 2011

The latest to slam the DSI's finding is Metropolitan Police Bureau deputy chief Pol. Lt.-General Amnuay Nimmano. He said to the media that:

He said the DSI jumped to the conclusion the fatal shot must have been fired from the direction of a group of red shirts confronting the troops. For this information they relied on the dead man's camera, in which the last shots shown were of soldiers.

"It turns out that the camera's lens was covered, and the camera did not work the moment he was shot. A person can turn in any direction when [hit by a bullet]," said Amnuay. (...)

"It's DSI's own theory, own leads, own investigation and own conclusion, without police getting involved, and based on nothing convincing or credible. To put it simply, the conclusion is simply muddled," Amnuay said.

"Police refute DSI finding on shot cameraman", The Nation, March 3, 2011

My take: The moment I read about bullet patterns, I was (more than usually) skeptical. No bullets, just patterns!

As pointed out by in the comments on my previous article, even though the army does not use the AK-47 rifle it uses the same kind of 7.62 caliber bullets. These bullets are also used by the SR-25 and the SSG 3000 - both are sniper rifles used by the Thai armed forces. Military snipers were seen numerous times during the protests, especially during the crackdown in May 2010, and multiple witnesses claim to have seen armed men shooting from above during the April 10 clashes as well. So there is a possibility that Muramoto has been shot - deliberately or not - by military soldiers.

The DSI and their fact-finding are losing more credibility (not that they had much to begin with) with this apparent u-turn and with their inability to full shrug off rumors of colluding with the military, there's no other verdict than that this an active cover-up to evade full responsibility.

h/t to ricefieldradio for the aforementioned pointer