Slain Italian Photographer's Last Photos Unveiled

(17 May) Glimpses of 2010 Bangkok protests captured on camera by the Italian photographer shot and killed when the military moved in to quell the protesters, were displayed to the public for the first time.

The exhibition was a tribute by Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (FCCT) to the memory of Mr. Fabio Polenghi.

The FCCT organised the event with collaboration from Ms. Elizabeth Polenghi, Fabio′s sister, who discovered the photos on her brother′s computer. Out of "500 or so" photos that her brother took, she selected 33, which now lined the wall of the FCCT clubhouse.

The event drew a considerable crowd at the clubhouse; Friday night is also a jazz night when the club members meet and mingle at the bar. The audiences were treated to Mr. Polenghi′s snapshots showing diverse reflections of the protests: Redshirt mother feeding milk to her baby, a wounded soldier relaxing in his truck, Yellowshirts rally in Victory Monument, Multicolored-shirts at Silom, Commander Red (The rogue Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol) inspecting the Redshirts? defense at the edge of their encampment.

A more gruesome work is photo of a man shot in his bloodied back resting against a tree, but most of the photos were notably absent of gory element; Ms. Polenghi told our correspondent that her brother preferred to use "peaceful way" to tell story of a not too peaceful situation.

As Fabio′s camera was stolen in the confusion after he was shot on 19 May 2010, these were strictly the last photos taken by the photographer. The ?last picture? retrieved, taken on 18 May, shows a group of Redshirts cowering behind barricades made of car tires.

Speaking to the crowd, Ms. Polenghi said that she did not show these photos only because Fabio was killed, but also because she wanted to show her brother′s work to the world. Fabio, she said, spent his life deeply in photography, having started as a fashion photographer and later moving on to other fields.

He traveled to many countries, Ms. Polenghi told the crowd. He took photos of traffic, of people, of prostitutes. Anything that tells a story. Although he has been to troubled places like Myanmar, he was not "war photographer", Ms. Polenghi said, but a "human photographer".

Fabio traveled to many countries, she said, but "for reasons I don?t know" he had particular love and interest in Thailand. She told the audience the last time she talked to her brother, on 5 May 2010, Fabio told her he felt a big change was happening in Thailand, and that he was determined to stay in the country for a while to understand it.

"I could see that Fabio was emotionally involved in what was happening in Bangkok," Ms. Polenghi said.

Ms. Polenghi said she awaited the court ruling on 29 May, which will affirm whether the military had shot Fabio as many witnesses had asserted – a claim denied by the military. Ms. Polenghi said she expected the Thai court "to do the right thing".

What would she do, a member of the audience asked Ms. Polenghi, if the court decided otherwise, though?

She said she might shift the frontline to somewhere closer at home by filing the case to a "European court". Although she did not specify which court, it′s possible she was refering to the ongoing effort by the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) to bring the incidents of 2010 crackdown to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Nonetheless, when asked if she was satisfied with the development of the investigation in the past 3 years, Ms. Polenghi said that despite the slow pace, things have already exceeded her expectation. She said she had never even imagined the case would have been brought to the court at all.

"It takes time," she said.

Afterwards, she revealed to our correspondent that one of the exhibited photos was displayed as desktop wallpaper in Fabio′s computer. The photo showed a wooden scarecrow with face of then-PM Abhisit Vejjajeeva planted at the edge of the Redshirts encampment. A man nearby held a palad khik (penis-shaped wood) with inscription "M 100" – mocking the military′s assertion that the protesters were armed with M79 grenade launchers.

Fabio, Ms. Polenghi said, was trying to convey that the Redshirts were humorous people who love making jokes even in the most desperate situations, whereas mainstream media likes to paint them as rude, aggressive bunch.

Mr. Mike Bach, a German photographer and a longtime friend of Fabio, was also at the exhibition. He told our correspondent he met Fabio when they were fashion photographers in Paris around 20 years ago.

He had not talked to Fabio for long time and was not aware that his Italian friend was covering the protests in Thailand when he heard about Fabio′s death on TV news. Few days after that, Mr. Bach flew to Thailand and followed the development in Fabio′s case closely ever since.

"I want to know what happened. Something definitely went wrong," Mr Bach said.

He said what was particularly unacceptable about what happened to Fabio and other foreign journalists was the fact that Thailand was not known to be a warzone like Syria where the dangers were obviously known.

"What happened was completely ridiculous. Nobody should have been shot like that in Bangkok," Mr. Bach insisted.

As for the prospect of the court ruling on 29 May, Mr. Bach hoped the court would pinpoint that the military was indeed responsible. However, he said even if that happens, it won?t be enough until those responsible for the instruction to use deadly forces on that day are held accountable by the laws.

The court, he noted, has so far ruled that the military was responsible for some deaths in 2010, but it has not yet singled out any particular person.

Asked if he was still optimisitic about the quest for justice for his friend, Mr. Bach was silent for some time before stating firmly: "Yes, I am optimistic".