Two deaths originally blamed on an alleged Shan gang were later deemed to have been caused by a road accident.
The Chiang Mai-based Shan Literature and Culture Association and the Northern Thailand Indigenous People’s Network have sent an open letter to the Northern Thailand Journalist Association on Friday for using “discriminatory language” in their crime reporting.
The letter was delivered at 7:00 a.m. on June 21, and nearly 50 Shan migrant workers were present with the Shan civil society organizations when they handed the document to the journalists.
The incident that brought the issue to light was the death of two Thai vocational school students at around 3:00 a.m. on June 18 near Pratu Thapae park. Originally, it was reported by Thai media outlets like Thai Rak that the students were stabbed with swords by members of a “Shan samurai gang.”
After the incident occurred, Thai police arrested three undocumented Shan youth. Thai news outlets reported that these youth were members of the gang in question but that their leader had escaped.
Thai police have since confirmed that the young men died in a motorbike accident and that they sustained no injuries matching with that of a sword. It has also been suggested that prior to their crash, the young men had a confrontation with a group of Shan migrant workers.
“This is not the first such incident in Chiang Mai. Whenever this occurs, Thai media outlets use discriminatory language to blame Shan migrant workers,” Sai Seng Mueng Mang Kon, chair of the Northern Thailand Indigenous People’s Network, said in a press conference on Friday. “This small thing can turn into a big flame,” he explained, adding that this type of reporting puts vulnerable Shan communities at risk of further marginalization.
Following the news reports, Thai people threatened and placed blame on Shan migrant workers on social media. According to the Migrant Workers Association, Shan employees have experienced discrimination in the workplace as a result of the media coverage.
Sai Seng Mueng Mang Kon asked that reporters refrain from revealing the ethnicity of alleged perpetrators and to adhere to journalism ethics, which would only allow them to reveal the names of those arrested.
The open letter stated that if Thai media agencies continue to discriminatory language in their news reports, Shan civil society would take action against them in accordance with the law.
Representatives from the civil society organizations said they would follow the court case of the three Shan youth still under arrest and “learn the real story” about what happened to them.