Article

UNESCO trained Thai police officials on upholding freedom of expression international standards

In cooperation with the Royal Police Cadet Academy in Bangkok, Thailand, UNESCO concluded a training for police cadets and anti-riot police on strengthening their capacities on international standards on freedom of expression and safety of journalists.
UNESCO training Bangkok police

The 4-day national training, from 19-22 April 2022, gathered 30 police officials and trainers of the Royal Police Cadet Academy (RPCA), to discuss the critical role of law enforcement actors in respecting the right to freedom of expression, while fulfilling their duty to maintain public order. Notably, the last two days of the training included interactive discussions and practical exercises with police officials from the crowd-control units and 10 Thai journalists, to enhance professional relations between the two groups.

In his opening remarks, the Director of UNESCO’s Bangkok Office, Mr Shigeru Aoyagi, particularly emphasized:

This cycle of violence against journalists is often an indicator of the weakening of the rule of law and the degradation of justice systems globally. In the absence of a minimum level of public order, citizens and journalists cannot fully benefit from their right to free expression. Police and security forces are therefore critical duty bearers in ensuring that journalists are able to do their work safely; and timely investigations into crimes and attacks against journalists are carried out to completion.
Shigeru Aoyagi

Led by international experts, the training provided police officials with theoretical and practical tools to perform their duties while remaining transparent and accountable to the public. In this regard, it is in the interest of law enforcement actors to understand the role and function of journalists in democratic countries, and to facilitate their work of informing citizens on matters of public interest, as this ultimately serves to build confidence in public institutions.

As a police officer, I need to understand more about how journalists work. Understanding decreases conflicts. If we understand each other, we know what the other wants, and we can provide it.
Police Captain Patchara Tata RPCA Thailand
The most interesting part of the training was the discussion - police and journalists come together in a calm environment to have a debate. Normally, we do not have the power balance to be able to talk to each other freely. Mostly, it is the police who have the authority, and we listen to them, and it is quite hard to respond with what we really think concerning the tense situation on-ground.
Wasinee Pabuprapap Journalist at Work Point Today

The final day of the training was organised at the Royal Thai Police Tactical Training Center, and notably included two practical exercises, with the participation of a platoon of anti-riot police, as well as police cadets and journalists. Role-play scenarios were conducted based on a public demonstration where police officials must cooperate with the media professionally and a crime-scene of human trafficking, where police officials must provide information to journalists, while protecting the integrity of the investigation and judicial process.

In past situations, we only thought about where a journalist is coming from and whether they are a legitimate member of the press. But now I understand that it is the right of everyone to have freedom of expression. I also understand the international standards on freedom of expression, what we should do in specific scenarios, including how to direct journalists to a safety zone and record the scene without any harm done to them.
Police Colonel Phansa Amarapitak Superintendent of Police, Thailand

Further, the involvement of trainers from the RPCA enhanced the exchange of best practices on how law enforcement can be trained to contribute towards fostering freedom of expression and press freedom. One such trainer, Police Captain Patchara Tata who is a Lecturer at the RPCA, shared how she would incorporate the lessons from the training in her own course, “I will ask my students to share their experiences or their understanding about journalists, and the good points of being a journalist and a police officer. Further, we can discuss what the media is, how it affects the working of police, and what we need to prepare for, including how police should act in front of a camera.”

The activity was a follow-up of Recommendation 51.92 formulated during the Third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council on 21 December 2021 (A/HRC/49/17), that was accepted by Thailand, namely to “improve the capacity of police, security forces and other law enforcement agencies to carry out their work while respecting the rights of people to freedom of assembly and expression, and civil society space”.

The training was supported by the Netherlands through the UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), and the Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists (MDP).

Since 2013, UNESCO and its partners have trained over 8,600 security forces  from 20 countries on freedom of expression and safety of journalists, based on the Training Manual on “Freedom of Expression and Public Order”. Within the framework of UNESCO’s recent partnership with the International Police Association, a global Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) will be organised in July 2022 for members of law enforcement systems, to strengthen their capacities on freedom of expression and safety of journalists issues.