"From the barricade under the Expressway Khlong Toei". Photo by FreakingCat.
The current climate in central Bangkok has made it one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work after three reporters were shot on Friday. While increasingly fewer of them risk getting close to the violence, some "citizen journalists", like our Observer "FreakingCat", continue to report from the front line.
Thirty-eight people have been killed and 279 injured as Bangkok enters it sixth day of bloody clashes. While the Thai government tries in vain to dislodge the 5,000 anti-government Red Shirts from a barricaded base in the centre of Bangkok, the district has been brought to a standstill. The fighting between the protestors and the army has closed shops, brought commuter train services to a halt, and seen three buildings gutted by fire.
Professional journalists took a step back from the clashes after three members of the press were shot on Friday 14, including one France 24 journalist who remains in hospital after receiving three bullets.
Some unpaid, non-professional and unprotected "citizen journalists" however, continue to get as close as possible to the action.
FreakingCat at work
Heavy gunfire at Rama 4 near Lumphini park. Filmed on May 13.
Smiling boy returning from the front line at Rama 4, Bon Kai, 17 May.
Red Shirts deliver more tyres by motorbike to the already huge fire in front of the Lumpini Tower, Rama 4, 14:15 on 17 May.
From the big red barricade under the Expressway Khlong Toei, 17 May.
Rama 4 Expressway exit at Khlong Toei 12:30pm, 17 May.
"Red" boy working as traffic guard at Rama 4 Khlong Toei, 17 May.
The tyre barricade at the Rama 4 expressway. Filmed on May 17.
“I get closer to the violence than professional journalists because I’m less conspicuous”
"FreakingCat" is a 38-year-old business owner who has been documenting the clashes on Rama 4 street with his iPhone and pocket digital camera. A European expat, he's been living in Bangkok for six years.
When the fighting started outside my door, I was so shocked, I wanted to show people what was going on. I went out and spoke a bit of Thai to the Red Shirts outside. They seemed to accept me, so I started filming. I caught the first shot fired on Rama 4 and posted the footage on YouTube. That was just the start. Before this happened, I didn't even have a Twitter account; now I have 450 followers.
I don't mark myself as press because I'm not press. I think that I get closer to the violence than professional journalists anyway because I'm less conspicuous. I speak a bit of Thai, I don't wear a bulletproof vest and I don't run to film anything. I just keep quiet and look non-threatening.
Most of the journalists here have given up reporting from behind the barricades anyway because it's too risky. There are only a few Japanese and a few American journalists who'll do it.
I do think I'm making a difference because, before I posted any videos, people were saying on Facebook that the Red Shirts were unarmed and peaceful, which was simply not true. Now people can see the situation from both sides. The exposure makes it worth risking your life for, especially when you see one of your videos on Danish TV!
However, it also means that both the Red and the Yellow Shirts are each using the videos that are useful to them as propaganda. On Monday I filmed a baby who had been placed on the Reds' barricade. The video was aired in a government announcement by the CRES [a unit set up specifically to deal with the crisis].
I'm not worried about getting shot but at the same time, I'm cautious. I wear my motorbike crash helmet; which is perhaps a bit naïve but better than nothing. I don't go out after dark and I get down on the floor as soon as the army starts shooting. I didn't go out on Monday night because the locals told me it was too dangerous; the army had started using M-16 rifles.
What's more scary for me is if the Red Shirts realise I'm criticising them. They'd kill me. A few days ago one of the Red Shirts ‘heroes' snatched my iPhone off me. But then he smiled and said he wanted to take a photo of me. I've already had a death threat on Facebook from one woman who doesn't like me. But I just can't sit at home doing nothing."