BANGKOK (Reuters) -Two Thai journalists have been arrested for their story about an activist spray painting an anarchist symbol and a symbol critical of “lese majeste” laws on a Bangkok temple wall almost a year ago, the police and their lawyers said on Tuesday.
Nattaphol Meksobhon, a reporter from an independent online news outlet Prachatai, and freelance photographer Nattaphon Phanphongsanon were arrested on Monday.
The two were charged with being accomplices to damaging an historical site and public vandalism, said Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which is representing the men.
The allegations stem from their news coverage last March of an activist spray painting an anarchist symbol and the number 112 with a strike through it on the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, located within the Grand Palace compound in Bangkok.
The number 112 is a reference to the “lese majeste” law that protects the palace from criticism and carries a maximum jail sentence of up to 15 years for each perceived royal insult, a punishment widely condemned by international human rights groups as extreme.
The graffiti incident was captured on video and widely reported by the media.
Prachatai news editor Tewarit Maneechai said the two journalists went to cover the story without knowing in advance that the activist was going to graffiti the temple’s wall.
“They were covering the news as journalists,” Tewarit said.
Police Lieutenant Colonel Phawat Wattasupat, deputy superintendent of Phra Ratchawang police station, told Reuters that police had sufficient information to support their arrests.
Tewarit said his colleagues were not aware of the charges prior to their arrest even though the warrant was issued last May.
“Their arrests created fear about news coverage of sensitive issues,” he said.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on Tuesday that the government is “fair” on freedom of the press and said it is up to the police to see what is appropriate.
“Everything depends on the law, there is no harassment,” he said.
The court approved bail for the two reporters for 35,000 baht ($980) each after they were detained overnight, their lawyers said.
($1 = 35.7100 baht)
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Michael Perry and Kim Coghill)