BY INSI

SAFETY ADVISORY: Thailand as at 10/01/14

Six people have been injured in clashes in Bangkok, ahead of next week’s planned ‘shutdown’ of the Thai capital by anti-government protesters.

The protests began in November and have been mostly peaceful, although eight people, including two police officers have been killed and around 400 people wounded.

Demonstrators, who are calling for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down, aim to paralyze Bangkok for between 15 and 20 days by blocking seven of the city’s main intersections.

Reports say authorities are planning to deploy thousands of troops and police to the streets and airport on Monday to maintain order.

It is likely to be extremely difficult to move around Bangkok from Monday and you should consider this in all your planning. The International News Safety Institute is issuing the following safety advisory for journalists planning to cover the demonstrations.

 

You are not advised to cover protests if you

• Have not undertaken a hostile environment course

• Do not have up to date medical training

• Are an inexperienced journalist

• Do not have a local fixer

• Do not have a robust communications plan

• Do not have emergency plans in place

• Do not understand the way demonstrations take place and the tactics of the security forces, as well as the weaponry that is used and why

 

Preparation

Ensure you have considered the following prior to going to cover protests

• Have a plan – decide what your story really is, do you need to go there to get the story? Can you get it another way?

• How long do you need there and why?

• Have a plan for emergencies and know the area of the protests. Do a map study and plan escape routes.

• Think safety in numbers. Broadcast journalist should try to send three people and stick together. Individuals should try to go with other journalists

• Take someone with you who knows the area

• Find a fixer to act as your guide. This may give you some level of protection

• If you are a foreigner and do not know the language take a translator with you

• What time of the day do you need to go to get the story, can it be done during the day? The night is always more dangerous as the dark hides the criminal elements and the security forces find it more difficult to react - and can overreact

• Atmosphere – try to get a sense of the mood in the morning. Who is there, what are people doing?

• Where will you keep your valuables?

• Ensure your accreditation is in order and easily accessible. Carry a photocopy of your press accreditation and telephone numbers of your editor and lawyer

• Make sure your editor knows how to reach your family in case you’re arrested or hurt. Ensure they know how the legal system works in the country you are working in. Think, if you get arrested, how do they get you out?

• You may wish to alert the authorities that your news organisation plans to cover the protests, if it is appropriate and not dangerous to do so in the country you are in. If so, obtain the mobile number of the person in charge; the more senior the better

• Take protective gear. This can include helmets, gas masks, escape hoods or bullet proof vests with protective plates, if possible. Your decision regarding this may depend on what weapons the local police force uses for crowd control and the projectiles the protesters are throwing (see Equipment)

• Wear comfortable boots that you can run in

• Wear natural fabrics, which may be less flammable than synthetic fabrics

• Pack a medical kit and know how to use it

• Set your mobile phone to speed dial with an emergency number pre-set

• Consider filming from high vantage points. Agree a rendez-vous point in case you lose your team and agree a “safe” place where you can retreat if the situation becomes too dangerous

Remember to download and read INSI's checklist for covering demonstrations before your assignment. 

 

Equipment

Ensure you take the following:

Backpack with

• Photocopies of your documents. Do not take your passport, take a colour photocopy

• Money

• Any prescription drugs

• Appropriate clothing (i.e. a sunhat and sunscreen if it’s hot, a raincoat or umbrella if it’s raining, a sweater or jacket if it’s cold)

• Water for drinking and for washing away tear gas

• Food (i.e. snack bars)

• Torch and spare batteries

• Goggles and dust mask, or preferably a respirator/gas mask with a spare canister

• Hard hat/bump cap to protect your head against bricks being thrown

• Small fire extinguisher

• Eye drops

• Medical pack with equipment for burns and gunshots

• Compass and map so you know where you are and which way to run to safety

Transport and routes into the protest areas

• Think about the transport you're going to use to get there. This is likely to complicated by the nature of the ‘shutdown’, but it is advisable to have a car on standby as near to the protest area as possible for use in the event of an emergency. The driver must stay by the vehicle

• Ensure you have communications with your driver, so you can get them to assist you if needed

• Ask yourself, what is the best approach to the protest area? Seek local advice

 

Thoughts for consideration

• If you take pictures of people doing bad things it is likely they will turn on you. This applies to the security forces and locals. Both sides are just as aggressive

• Ask whether it is safer to send a man or a woman. Would it be safer to send a man given the atmosphere?

• If your fixer or your local guide says it is time to leave, trust them

• If you get into trouble, you may not be able to get help. You have to be self-sufficient

• Ask yourself - what will you do if you are attacked or assaulted? Have a plan

 

On the ground

• As soon as you arrive, look for escape routes and ensure you know the landmarks to head for if you become disorientated

• Try to stay on the edge of the crowd and do not get caught on the line between police and protesters

• Crowds have a life of their own. Be constantly aware of the mood and attitude

• Alert your editors if the mood starts to change and begin to think of what your plan is

• If planning to change direction, seek advice from people who have just come from the direction you’re heading

• Television crews should travel as light as possible. If experiencing aggression, ensure your backpack is big enough to hold the tripod and pack it away. Be prepared to leave it behind if you need to run away

• Avoid horses. They bite and kick

• Try to avoid getting in the line of the water being fired as it will damage your kit. It often has dye in it for the security forces to be able to identify the protesters after

• If the police detain you, try to ask them to call the person in charge if you have their number. Try to speak to a senior officer, as this will have more impact

• In case of tear gas, use a gas mask and have a spare canister. If you do not have access to a gas mask the next best thing is an escape hood, which is cheaper than a gas mask and isn't subject to the same export rules as military respirator

• If you do not have either of these use a damp cloth or the inside of your coat or jacket to protect the airway by pulling it up and over the nose (note that the outside of the jacket is likely to be contaminated with CS). Cover your mouth and nose with it. Try to use some sort of goggles to protect your eyes – swimming goggles work well

• Ladies – consider not wearing makeup as tear gas sticks to it

• Try not to wear contact lenses, as the tear gas will get under the lens. Bring eye drops and spare glasses. Ensure glasses have a neck string attached so if they drop from your face they will stay on your chest and not hit the ground

• Try to stay low if the wind appears to be lifting the gas, if not then move to high ground as some may accumulate in low areas. Once the area is clear, or you have moved away, consider standing legs apart and arms raised and face into the wind until the effects have subsided. This will allow the wind to blow the CS gas off any clothing and ensure that you get plenty of fresh air

• Consider laundering your clothes when you return to your base if not the gas will remain on the clothing for many months if not washed


Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist journalists covering demonstrations and are not meant to be negative in nature. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems as a result of this advice.

Photo: Anti-government protesters make their way across the Pin Klao Bridge over the Chao Phraya River during a warm-up rally to paralyze the capital Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. In their bid to topple the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, protest leaders have set January 13 as the date to bring Bangkok to a halt. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Some of the information above has kindly been provided by SecureBio.