Court: Military's Bullet Kills Italian Photographer Fabio Polenghi

Elizabeth Polenghi showing compilation of Fabio's photographs to the reporters.

BANGKOK – In a crucial ruling, the Criminal Court confirms that the Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi was killed by military-issued ammunition which was fired from direction of the security forces during their operation to end the Redshirts mass protests on 19 May 2010.

However, the court stopped short of pinpointing who is responsible for the killing.

Mr. Polenghi is one of more than 90 deaths that resulted from the political violence in April-May 2010, when the Redshirts occupied central Bangkok to demand a parliamentary dissolution and new election, but were met with military operation directed by then-PM Abhisit Vejjajeeva.

The case of Mr. Polenghi had been particularly followed by many civil rights groups, because the Italian was operating as member of the press at the time of his death. A Japanese journalist was also killed during the clash between the military and the Redshirts on 10 April 2010.

Earlier today, crowds of reporters waited at the steps of South Bangkok Criminal Court, where the ruling was scheduled. Ms. Elizabeth Polenghi, sister of Fabio, arrived at the court around 08.50 with her sister Ms. Ariana Polenghi and her mother Mrs. Laura Chiorri. Elizabeth was accompanied by Ms. Suda Ranggupa, leader of the Redshirt′s progressive wing.

Also present at the court were Mr. Bradley Cox, an American photographer who saw Fabio shot and later testified in the court hearings; Mr. Mike Bach, a German photographer who met Mr. Polenghi 2 decades ago when they started their career in Paris; and Mr. Shawn Crispin, a representative from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Around 09.40 a judge read out the ruling, stating that the bullet that killed Mr. Polenghi ("penetrating his heart, lung, and liver") is .223 cartridge, which corresponds to the ammunition issued to the military personnel in the area.

The court also noted that when Mr. Polenghi was photographing the protesters in Rajdumri area, gunfire erupted from the position of the military, and Mr. Polenghi was hit by the bullet fired from that direction as he attempted to run away.

Additionally, the court said that Mr. Michel Maas, a Dutch journalist, was shot and wounded in the vicinity by similar type of bullet, and after a lengthy inquest it was determined that no other armed group could have been responsible for these shootings – possibly a reference to Blackshirts, who were alleged of infiltrating the Redshirts protesters.

The judge concluded that Mr. Polenghi was certainly killed by the bullet fired from direction of the security forces. However, she added that "it is not clear who committed [the killing]", which caused some confusion among the audience.

Speaking to the awaiting reporters in front of the court building later, Ms. Elizabeth Polenghi said the ruling today is a positive step, but would not say whether she is satisfied with it because the court did not make it explicitly clear in its wording that the military shot her brother.

She said she would need to consult with her family and her lawyer first, and will hold a press conference later tonight at 18.00 at the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (FCCT) to comment more thoroughly about the case.

Nonetheless, she confirmed that she would pursue the justice for Fabio, insisting that someone has to be punished for what happened.

"By punishment I don?t mean death penalty. I don?t mean prison. No one should be put in Thailand′s horrible prison," she said, explaining that she?d rather see the one responsible for her brother′s death be removed of their position in order to prevent further atrocities.

Gesturing toward her mother, Elizabeth told the reporters that it′s been very difficult and confusing for her family to understand because they did not follow the matters as closely as she did.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shawn Crispin, from Committee to Protect Journalists, said after the ruling that he is encouraged by the inquest result today, calling it the first step toward justice that he hoped would "break the cycle of impunity in Thailand".

Mr. Crispin said the real challenge would be the procedure to hold former PM Abhisit accountable. He admitted that it would be very difficult, noting that it took 3 years and 10 days – a long time – before the court finally pointed out the military is responsible for his death.

"I can?t imagine how long it would take," Mr. Crispin said, "this is a long road. But at least we are on that road. We could have been knocked off altogether. So, I?m cautiously optimistic"