Freedom of What? Foreign Journalist Beaten by Mob after Anti-Government Democrat MP Gives Order to ‘Kick Him Out’

 | Tue 26 Nov 2013 16:03 ICT

“This is a new height of conflict,” Nick Nostitz told CityNews this morning. Nostitz is a German freelance journalist who has been covering Thai culture and politics for almost a decade. Yesterday he was repeatedly kicked and punched at an anti-government rally after protest leader Democrat MP Jumpol Chumsai incited the violence by shouting through the microphone that Nostitz was a “red shirt journalist” and persona non grata in the company of anti-government protestors due to his purported opinions concerning Thailand’s embattled politics.

Speaking from his home in Bangkok Nostitz explained that following the incident an online hate campaign attempted to smear his name and incite further hatred. Meanwhile Suthin Wannaboworn, a yellow shirt supporter and former Reuters and AP journalist, claimed on Thai Television’s pro-Democrat Bluesky channel that Nostitz was indeed working for the Thaksin regime. Bluesky then started a Facebook Nostitz hate-page on which thousands of yellow shirts hit the infamous and in this case ironic ‘like’ button. Thailand’s Foreign Correspondents Club (FCCT) condemned the incident shortly after it happened, and foreign journalists working inside Thailand also showed their support of Nostitz on FCCT’s Facebook page.


Describing the incident Nostitz said that he was in the crowd from morning and later moved towards the metropolitan police barricades. “Around 1.30 p.m. protestors captured an officer,” he says. “I tried to photograph what was happening, but was hindered by people putting their hands in front of my camera.”


“This is a regular thing,” he explains, of crowds pushing and pulling, of people aggressively denying photographers the chance of getting shots.

Though during this melee Nostitz experienced something he had never even heard of in his many years of being a journalist: a protest speaker inciting an already volatile crowd to act violently against a journalist.


“On the mobile stage, only about 7 metrtes from where I was standing Chumpon shouted, ‘he’s a red shirt, kick him out’ and before he even finished speaking fists were hitting me in the face.”


Fortunately the guards helped, says Nostitz, and being so close to police headquarters he was quickly escorted away from trouble. 


Up until this time protestors, most of them either calling themselves anti-government, pro-Thailand, against-Thaksinism, or ultra-royalist, etc, had been for the most part peaceful around Ratchadamnoen Avenue. It’s now reported that the crowds have taken over government buildings and that the atmosphere has turned more aggressive.

The ongoing protests’ outstanding rabble rouser is Suthep Thaugsuban, a controversial politician who has been involved in various scandals over the years, referred to in a secret US government cable of exuding “corrupt and unethical behavior”. If Abhisit is perceived as the brains behind the Democrats, the cable says, then Suthep is the bulwark, the mover and shaker, more a man of the people…and the military. Suthep already succeeded in rounding up large mobs in opposition of the Amnesty Bill, though now his influence has turned to swaying the thousands of baying protestors to overthrow the wicked Thaksin Regime, as it’s called by those that decry the present elected government. Once again democracy seems to be proving farcical as crowds of supposed Democrats ask for a royally appointed government, which will consist of cabinet members and who knows which well known elite players. In the meantime politicians will be banished from politics for a number of years. This might all sound like a Greek comedy, if it weren’t so tragic.

In the Thai press today concerned parties hoped that Suthep will keep his rabble acting within the confines of the law and not react violently against anyone who stands in their way. The beating of Nostitz however at the behest of a political leader is perhaps significant of how democratic these people are, and how puerile, but dangerous the crowds can react to their master’s commands.


Should foreign journalists, or any citizens with political views, now keep their opinions well hidden in case someone should take offense?


Thailand is of course no stranger to this kind of fear of thy neighbour mentality, but over the last few years it seemed for a while that the Orwellian culture of fear was becoming more of an historical misdemeanor, than a real threat. Suthep and Chumpon’s exhortations of violence are a regression that takes the country back to a place it direly needs to escape from.


Other journalists have been threatened by the crowds, including a Channel 3 vehicle that was surrounded by mobs of angry protestors upset at the channel’s reporting. Channels 3, 7, 9, according to reports, have been accused of reporting the wrong opinions, or contriving to put the protests in a negative light.

In effect, anyone not supporting one side of the story could face retribution of some sort if accused of not supporting the correct and righteous narrative. 

Photo:  – Nostitz wearing the journalist green arm band

“What’s shocking,” says Nostitz, “is the fact a protest leader incited this.”


He adds that during protests it’s usually the people on stage that try and prevent violence. The incident, although it did not lead to any serious injuries, is highly symbolic of the tumultuous times.


The FCCT’s statement announced that it “deplores this in the strongest possible terms, and calls upon protest leaders to unequivocally and publicly state that the rights of journalists, foreign or Thai, should be respected.”

Though Suthep yesterday seemed to have little concern for human rights, freedom of speech, or perhaps even human life when he “told the cheering crowd that the protesters should pay visits to media agencies which do not give adequately positive coverage of the protests,” according to Khaosod news


Nostitz explained that he can’t even go and file a police report at the station as he’s too afraid of attacks, and for the safety of himself and his family after the escalating hate campaign by Bluesky news who, he says “discussed me in the most incredibly vile way.” The police have warned him not to go anywhere near protests.


Those that know Nostitz’s work, for the most part extol his impartiality, though he has throughout his writing career given voice and sympathised with the rural ‘red’ masses. He has however criticised Thaksin, especially during his inhumane populist campaign fighting drugs. Nostitz finds it inconceivable that anyone could think he was working for Thaksin. It’s more likely the accusation is a canard to smear his name.


“I go to the streets, I take photos, I talk to people, I write the story,” says Nostitz, “that’s all I do. I don’t even get involved with Twitter, or Facebook. I don’t want to be drawn into those kinds of wars.”


While Thailand shows the propensity to spiral out of control right now, Democratic party leaders have yet to condemn the sanctioning of media bullying and violence.


“I know many of the leaders,” says Nostitz, “I know Abhisit too,” but as yet there has been no response to the incident, he adds. The only condemnation has come from FCCT, Thailand’s Voice TV, Pratachai. Thailand’s Journalist’s Association whose green arm band – that should protect journalists against violence – he was wearing at the time of the attack have also yet to condemn the attack Nostitz said.


“They all know me,” he says, referring to various politicians, “I just don’t understand the silence. On a human level this is very disappointing. These smear campaigns are damaging. What’s done has been done, but something also needs to be done to rectify it, if only for the safety of me and my family…the protest leadership has to do something.”


They have to act quickly, he says. His concern is palpable down the phone. “Will the next journalist be killed?”


He has every right to be troubled. The irony of so-called democracy supporters calling for mob violence and the silencing, or beating, of the purveyors of information not only gives us a bleak and ominous vision of Thailand’s future, but it’s also a reminder of the barbarism which ostensibly civilised countries such as Thailand should have left behind. How ironic and pathetic it is that the words ‘progress’ and ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘growth’ and ‘accountability’ spatter the Thai media every day, like words being thrown from a baby’s cot.