Thailand: Preliminary court date set in case of slain photographer Fabio Polenghi
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Thailand: Preliminary court date set in case of slain photographer Fabio Polenghi

By Lisa Gardner

Eyewitnesses have come forward in the case of slain Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi, his sister said today, ensuring that his case will be heard before Thai courts.

On May 19, 2010, during street violence which would claim some 91 lives, the freelance photographer was killed as he ran to escape live rounds fire. 
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Italian photo-journalist Fabio Polenghi was killed during the violent dispersal of the anti-government red shirt protests on May 19, 2010. (© fabiopolenghi.org)

His sister, Elisabetta Polenghi, has campaigned strongly that his case be heard before Thai courts and for more evidence to be released by the local Thai authorities.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled to be heard on July 23.

Speaking via an interpreter with regards to these new developments, Elisabetta would note:

Police were able to get some eyewitnesses to make a statement, and with the information collected from them, the Public Prosecutor thought it was enough to information to start an official investigation… This is the first step in the process. Once the investigation ends up with a responsible party, there will be also be a Criminal Court process.

We don’t have the man who killed Fabio. We don’t have this kind of evidence, but until now we have general witnesses that can say, at that moment, the army were shooting… We haven’t identified the shooter, but we have elements to think that the shooting came from the Army side.

I need to talk to the police and lawyers to understand the situation, the point of the enquiry. From Italy it is very difficult to understand what’s really happening. I have information about what happened to Fabio… So sometimes I feel I need to come to Thailand and speak so the leader of enquiry knows exactly the ‘real point’.

She suggested that the 2011 election of the Yingluck Government may have encouraged more witnesses to come forward.

“Maybe because the government has changed, the people are feeling more comfortable in talking to the police,” says Elisabetta. “Maybe they feel more safe… But the public, who may not have felt they didn’t want to speak out when there wasn’t a red-shirt government. There’s a different energy now.”

Despite this, Elisabetta feels that “the shift in government, didn’t actually translate into any difference,” not least for her personally. “Not in the way of working, of those people who are investigating.” She notes that:

Fabio’s camera is still missing. We’ve been looking for the man who took it… But he’s not been identified.

What appears from some footage of Fabio right after he got shot, was that… an unidentified man came and took his camera away. No one has been able to identify this man, and we’re looking for the camera to be returned, and why the camera was taken from Fabio, right after he got shot.

The lengthy wait for proceedings to begin has taken its toll on Elisabetta.

I talk only for myself – my family is very large, and every one of us have our own need… But from my side, the first time I came here, I felt it was a kind of nightmare. It is critical I come back, again and again. I think we all need to know the truth – this is the main thing. I need to know if Fabio was shot by the Army, we all have to know it… Nothing else.

Even for journalists, I’m trying to encourage a situation that is safer for them.

I wonder, every time I come here. ‘When will it be finished?’ It is not up to me. I don’t know how long I can go on… because, it’s turned me, every time, upside down. Each time it is very big emotional shock.

Elisabetta describes her brother as a man who “loved his job… He was a very curious person. His best side was that he was a peaceful person… (who) loved to know different cultures – he was open-minded like that.”

I think he was a photographer, a professional, and was well-prepared to cover these things. He was a person who got into these things, not only to get a ‘nice picture’, but to understand what was happening in these places.

He was a freelancer, and this was one of the things I liked about him. He kept open the possibilities, to be free on his job. But that’s why he was shot, because he chose to stay ‘on the other side’. Because he thought that on the other side, that’s where they were violating human rights.

A small memorial will be held on Ratchadamri, at the spot where Fabio was killed, this Saturday at 10:30am.

Lisa Gardner is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok. Follow her on Twitter @leesebkk