3 February 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
A newspaper publisher in southern Thailand received a veiled threat from an influential politician after he submitted himself to an official inquiry into an alleged vote-buying violation by a senior member of the ruling Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party.
Sompoch Boonrat, editor-publisher of Songkhla’s weekly newspaper, “Simila Times,” was questioned by an official of the Election Commission (EC) in his office last month in connection with his coverage of a political meeting of the TRT in Songkhla province on 16 January.
Sompoch told SEAPA that an influential politician, whom he declined to name, approached him on 31 January and asked for a taped conversation between him and the EC official in return for protection.
That same person earlier tried to persuade him not to talk with the EC while accusing him of being a supporter of the opposition Democrat party, Sompoch said.
Although Sompoch and other journalists were not allowed inside the TRT meeting in mid-January, he managed to take photos of party supporters who attended the gathering. It was at that meeting where Deputy Agriculture Minister and TRT deputy leader Newin Chidchob was reported to have offered party supporters cash in exchange for votes.
Bangkok-based newspapers reported on that political gathering and quoted Nipit Intarasombat, a Southern candidate of the rival Democrat Party, as saying Newin offered cash for votes, an accusation the TRT leader denied.
The incident sparked a heated row between the two parties in the lead up to the 6 February general election and prompted the EC to step in. The Democrats claimed they have authentic evidence including a taped controversial cash-for-votes pledge by Newin.
The politician’s harassment of Sompoch has prompted a protest from the Southern Editors Network and Central and Eastern Editors Network. In separate statements on 2 February, the two organisations strongly condemned this intimidation as a serious threat to press freedom.
They expressed concern that actions like this would affect the media’s performance of their duty, and called for an end to it.
Sompoch, 45, founded Simila Times four years ago. Offering both community and national news, his newspaper is well read by the community and is considered non-partisan.
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