CHIANG MAI — A veteran reporter from the largest newspaper said he was detained at an army base in Chiang Mai province for reporting about a festival water bowl that bore messages from ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Chaipin Kattiaya said the military held him for interrogation for several hours Wednesday and interrogated him regarding a frontpage report about a Redshirt activist posing with one of the red bowls published Monday. The woman, Theerawan Charoensuk was charged with sedition for the photo.
Chaipin said he did not take the photo, but found the image online and then sent it to Thairath’s office in Bangkok. He also said he did not do so because he thought it was a political issue, but because it fit the theme of the upcoming Songkran festival.
“I told the soldiers that I didn’t take the photo. I found it on social media,” Chaipin said by telephone Thursday. “And I didn’t have any intention to cause unrest. It was just for Songkran festival news.”
The water bowls were apparently distributed by the Shinawatra family to its supporters in the northern province. The scoops were printed with the innocuous text “the situation may be hot, but brothers and sisters may gain coolness from the water inside this bucket” and “signed” by Thaksin.
But for posing with the bowl, Theerawan is now charged with sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail. She will be tried by a military tribunal.
Chaipin said he was initially summoned by police to a local police station to give testimony as a witness in the charge against Theerawan. But when he showed up at the station, Chaipin said, he was immediately taken by soldiers to the 33rd Army Circle base. Seven soldiers, including martial court officers, interrogated Chaipin about the red bowl photo, he said.
“The moment I was transferred to the army camp, I was really frightened. I realized this was not a witness questioning anymore. This was a detention,” he recalled.
According to the reporter, the soldiers were eventually convinced that he did not have any knowledge about the bowl after they phoned Theerawan and she told them he wasn’t the person who took the photo. Chaipin was released afterwards, but not before he was photographed and his personal details taken, and he was instructed to refrain from reporting about the issue in the future.
“They said I must exercise my consideration not to do this kind of news again, because it’s sensitive; it may cause division and conflict,” Chaipin said. “They say I wrote it as one-sided news, so the other side was not pleased. They asked for my cooperation.”
Chaipin, who has worked at Thairath since 1977, said he’s willing to comply with the order, but added that the experience is unprecedented in his career.
“I never ran into this kind of thing before, because when I report news, I always stay in the middle. I don’t analyze things. I report news as the situation that really happened. I was really frightened [by the brief detention],” Chaipin said.