The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on authorities in Thailand to allow journalists reporting in the country to import and possess body armour in order to protect their safety.
According to Thai law, it is illegal for local Thai and foreign journalists in the country to obtain body armour such as vests and helmet, with reports suggesting that some journalists have been forced to buy inadequate home-made vests in the country, while others have attempted to bring items into the country via mail or through airports.
In a letter sent to the Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, the IFJ has expressed its fears for the safety of journalists covering developments in Thailand and called for Thai authorities to introduce a fast-track system so that journalists can legally equip themselves with body armour for protection while reporting on events.
The letter, signed by IFJ President Jim Boumelha, has been sent amid growing tension in Thailand's capital city Bangkok, with protests expected over the next couple of weeks between anti-government protesters and security forces as the election in February approaches.
"We are deeply worried about the risks to media who cover the political crisis in Bangkok. At least one photographer has already been injured by a rubber bullet while covering clashes in December last year and two foreign reporters were shot dead in political protests in 2010, which also injured and several other foreign and Thai journalists," says the letter.
It continues: "There are also genuine concerns that the planned protests in the capital Bangkok next week are likely to put journalists at an even greater risk for their physical safety. We therefore urge your government to review its stance on body armour and issue permit and possession licenses so that the professional, committed journalists covering the events in Bangkok and across Thailand can legally protect themselves."
In the letter, the IFJ also expresses its concern about the lengthy period and bureaucratic procedures that journalists have to go through to protect themselves.
"Your government should implement a fast-track system so that as many journalists as possible can be safely equipped to perform their work before the planned shutdown announced for 13 January during which clashes are expected," states the letter.
Highlighting the Thai Constitution and its commitment to protecting human rights, the letter urges the government to "act immediately and substantially so that the rights and freedoms of journalists working in your country are upheld and their safety is protected."
The letter adds: "Such an effort on your part would show your commitment to advancing media freedom in Thailand and would be appreciated by the world community of journalists."
For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 17
The IFJ represents more than 600 000 journalists in 134 countries