Bangkok Post

Media, cops ‘lose focus’ in karaoke case

Glorificat­ion of murder suspects draws anger


Police and the media have come under heavy fire over their treatment of three female suspects in the murder and dismemberi­ng of 22-year-old karaoke bar worker Warisara Klinjui.

A backlash has emerged on social media in response to the release of photos of the women appearing relaxed and convivial, wearing make-up and posing casually with officers as they are held in immigratio­n police custody. People have criticised the police for appearing to give them preferenti­al treatment.

There are also reports that police at Khao Suan Kwang station cleaned up the premises ahead of receiving the suspects.

The media has been criticised for treating them like celebritie­s and almost “idolising” them, particular­ly the “good-looking” Preeyanuch “Preaw” Nonwangcha­i, who allegedly confessed to strangling Warisara and dismemberi­ng her body. The other two suspects are Kawinta “Earn” Ratchada, and Apiwan “Jae” Satayabund­it.

Several media personalit­ies have been lambasted for seemingly showing compassion for the three suspects. Some of them have been the target of verbal attacks after calling the suspects by the affectiona­te term nong (sister) in their reporting.

The criticism has prompted the Royal Thai Police to set up a committee to look into the controvers­ial images and to issue an order instructin­g police officers not to take photos or clips with suspects or share media files involving the suspects.

Deputy national police chief Dejnarong Sutthichar­nbancha said the Immigratio­n Bureau is investigat­ing the origins of the photos, apparently taken when the suspects were in the custody of immigratio­n authoritie­s.

However, he said it was possible that the suspects were encouraged to “relax” as part of a trick used by authoritie­s to get them to reveal more informatio­n. He noted that the suspects gave informatio­n about a male suspect allegedly involved in the murder.

Pol Gen Dejnarong stressed that no suspects received preferenti­al treatment from police.

Amid the outrage and condemnati­on, social media outlets have also seen posts discussing the suspects sympatheti­cally.

The issue was raised by the National Steering Reform Assembly (NRSA) yesterday with some members voicing concerns about the affectiona­te portrayal of the women.

NRSA member Chalermcha­i Kreangam said the suspects have been portrayed by some media outlets as being family-orientated.

The suspects have even become akin to style icons, with people going out to buy the multicolou­red bags seen carried by the suspects in photos.

“It is a social illness. I am asking the

media reform committee to address this issue,” he said.

However, the three suspects were handcuffed yesterday as they were led by police through a re-enactment of the murder and disposal of the body of Warisara.

They were taken to eight spots linked to the grisly murder on May 23.

These included the store where they bought a saw, a resort where Warisara was cut up and bagged, and the field where her dismembere­d body was then buried.

Two companies of police also escorted the trio to an intersecti­on on Nadi Road where they picked up Warisara in a car and later drove her to the resort.

The murder occurred in the car, where Ms Preeyanuch allegedly strangled Warisara to death, said Provincial Police Region 4 deputy chief Chaoroenwi­t Siwanit.

“When the suspects realised the victim was dead, they bought the equipment [to dispose of the body] and drove to the resort,” he said.

However, police have yet to recover the saw, said Pol Maj Gen Thanasak Ritthidet-paiboon, deputy chief of the Provincial Police Region 4. But he insisted the missing evidence would not affect the case.

Five people were implicated and arrested in connection with the murder. The other two were identified as Wasin Namprom, 25, and Jidarat Promkhun, 21.

Mr Wasin and Ms Preeyanuch gave conflictin­g accounts about the location where they purchased the tool from, but it is unlikely to affect the investigat­ion because they got out of the car to buy it together, said Pol Maj Gen Thanasak.

Warisara’s dismembere­d body, stuffed

in plastic bags in two plastic containers, was dug up from a shallow grave on land owned by Ms Preeyanuch in Khon Kaen’s Khao Suan Kwang district on May 25.

Ms Preeyanuch and her two companions crossed the border to the Myanmar town of Tachilek, opposite Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, the same day.

The suspects yesterday apologised to the victim’s family who witnessed the reenactmen­t at the grave site, the last location of the crime re-enactment. A wall of police kept hundreds of angry villagers at bay.

Ms Preeyanuch was heard saying to the victim’s family that she regretted her actions.

One woman said she just wanted to see with her own eyes the “beautiful face, but cruel mind”.

Sakuntra Pleakaen, the victim’s aunt, said yesterday the family forgave the suspects because they could not bring back Warisara. “But give justice to our family and Warisara,” she said.

Relatives of Ms Preeyanuch asked that she not be sentenced to death, but be allowed to live.

Warisara’s grieving grandmothe­r Thonglom Klinjui who lives in Chai Nai posed them a question in return. They had asked for life, she said. “So I’d like to ask them back, how can I ask for the life of Nong Aem?” she said, using the victim’s nickname.

The Khon Kaen provincial court yesterday approved a police request to detain the trio for 12 days and refused them bail.

There is extreme hatred and unchecked condemnati­on, horror and loathing. Emotions definitely run high as the karaoke girl murder case keeps unfolding while questions about the standard of the police’s work, their treatment of murder suspects and the country’s criminal justice process in general explode.

What may be even more gruesome than the sensationa­l murder and dismemberi­ng of the victim’s body is the realisatio­n that we as a society are in such a big mess.

It’s frightenin­g when a crime case could raise so much doubt about the country’s law and order as well as media integrity. It’s also frightenin­g that no-one, not profession­al media outlets nor state authoritie­s, seems to have any definite answer as to what the standard practices are when it comes to the covering and handling of a murder case.

The death of 22-year-old Warisara Klinjui whose body parts were found buried in Khao Suan Kwang district, Khon Kaen, and subsequent hunt for her alleged murderers has been the biggest circus in town.

It’s true the case carries elements that have easily turned it into a high drama for news consumers. The crime was horrible. But that is not enough. The alleged murderers are women, bar girls who apparently led carefree lifestyles fuelled with sex, drugs and quick money.

They were not shy to put their bodies and uncensored lifestyles on display on social media either.

They have the right to do so. But do the mass media have the same right to publicise their mostly racy images and videos after they were implicated in the murder case? What point do they want to make? What can society learn from them?

No matter how much interest a crime or legal case has generated in society, there must be limits to human curiosity and what details about suspected criminals may be made available to the public. Some of the limits are legal, others a matter of taste. The karaoke girl murder case seems to have shown that we Thais are failing even at the minimum test of respecting the legal limits, let alone the more refined good or bad taste element.

The three suspects, Preeyanuch Nonwangcha­i, 24, Kawita Ratchada, 25, and Apiwan Sattayabun­dit, 28, may have confessed to charges of cooperatin­g in premeditat­ed murder, concealing a body and theft, although Preeyanuch insisted she had no intention to kill the victim.

But even before the confession, their faces, bodies and identities had been exposed in the media.

I am not trying to protect the alleged murderers, but I wonder if there is any standard treatment that a suspect is entitled to, no matter what the crime or legal case, when the constituti­on demands that all suspects are presumed innocent, and their rights be respected accordingl­y.

It may be fitting that the suspects in this case have confessed to the alleged crime but what if the three women were wrongly implicated? Since the crime was gruesome, public judgement has been harsh. Would it be fair for any suspect to be tried and fried in the court of public opinion before going to court?

Besides, what can the mass media gain from inciting hatred and raw emotions in their coverage of murder cases? Journalism may be in need of a boost both in terms of readership and revenue, but do they have to be that desperate?

It’s no exaggerati­on that media coverage of the arrest and detention of the three murder suspects has turned this otherwise serious crime case into a reality show. Admittedly, some members of the public may get carried away by the shocking elements of the news but that should not happen to profession­al media personnel or police officers.

Unfortunat­ely, photos of the three female suspects while in the custody of Mae Sai immigratio­n police showing them sleeping, wearing make-up with one posing with police wearing a facial beauty mask and flashing a V sign, show there was a slip in standards.

The question is not whether female murder suspects should be allowed to wear make-up before they go in front of media cameras or pose for a casual photo with a police officer. The question is: If the National Police Commission’s order forbids the media from taking photos of suspects in custody, where have these photos come from?

Would it be a surprise if the police commission also forbids an arrangemen­t for the mass media to cover a crime reenactmen­t? It seems violations of this order can be seen anywhere. Who should enforce the police order if not the officers themselves?

If a single crime case can reveal so many profession­al slips, the situation must be very gruesome indeed.

 ?? PHOTOS BY JAKKRAPAN NATHANRI ?? One of the suspects opens the boot of a car to show how the victim’s body was taken out of the vehicle, during a re-enactment of the crime.
PHOTOS BY JAKKRAPAN NATHANRI One of the suspects opens the boot of a car to show how the victim’s body was taken out of the vehicle, during a re-enactment of the crime.
 ??  ?? Three female suspects, closely guarded by police during a crime re-enactment, apologise to the family of Warisara Klinjui in Khon Kaen’s Khao Suan Kwang district.
Three female suspects, closely guarded by police during a crime re-enactment, apologise to the family of Warisara Klinjui in Khon Kaen’s Khao Suan Kwang district.
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