May 19th marks the first anniversary year since Italian freelance photoreporter Fabio Polenghi was killed in Bangkok while covering the Thai military’s final assault on the encampment of the Red Shirts, who were demonstrating in favour of exiled former Prime minister Thaksin Sinawatra and demanding the resignation of the cabinet of Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Fabio (45), with a long career on the front line of major international events, was killed by a bullet which traversed his body, piercing his heart, and to this day no light has been shed on the circumstances of his death.
The bullet was never recovered and there is no way to know where it came from, although it seems likely that the bullet came from a high power weapon–probably a rifle, with charateristics similar to the weapons used by Thai security forces mobilized to put down the Red Shirts protests, which also took on violent contours. A report by Thai security forces does not exclude the possibility that Fabio might have been killed by one of the bullets shot by the military. Even so, the Thai official inquiry on the death of Fabio and other Thai citizens in those days of turmoil of May 2010 has reached no conclusions, leaving open most of the questions asked by human and civil rights organizations and the victims’ relatives.
To remember Fabio, his sister Isa has organized an exhibit of Fabio’s photographs along with a round table on the role of photoreporters in crisis situations. The debate will be held at the Littleitaly Art Gallery, 42 Alzaia Naviglio Grande, in Milano, on the occasion of the show’s opening, scheduled for 6:30 pm on 16 May. The exhibit will run until May 19, featuring pictures taken throughout his career by Fabio, who covered many events of international relevance in 70 countries, documenting social upheavals but also fashion and sports.
Isa, a photographer herself, has engaged in a relentless search for the truth about what occurred in Bangkok one year ago. “One year after Fabio’s death – says Isa – and notwithtanding pressures exherted through diplomatic channels, Thai authorities have not shown any tangibile willingness to shed light on what happened to my brother, nor have they provided any new elements (on the investigation) or any satisfactory answers to the questions still open.”
The only formal and incongruous gestures made by the government in Bangkok have been a “money offer of € 24,000 and an invitation to attend the celebrations for the birthday of Thailand’s king.” Isa rejected both offers.
According to Isa, since Fabio was a freelancer and had no media corporate sponsorship, Italian authorities have helped only on a formal level, without engaging in any serious effort to obtain information on the circumstances of her brother’s death. And yet, says Isa, it is by now a known fact that on May 19 of last year, Thai security forces had been given “the order to shoot on the Red Shirts and on anybody who was trying to document and show to the world the slaughter” committed by them during their repression offensive. Fabio, says again Isa, was there to witness events “and this is why he died”.
The round table on May 16 will see the participation of Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer specialized on human and civil rights issues, who is well acquainted with the political situation in Thailand; Giovanna Calvenzi, photo editor for Sportweek, who had worked with Fabio on many occasions; Gino Ferri, a reporter; Barbara Benedettelli, a writer and a journalist; a representative of the Italian branch of Reporters Without Borders. The debate will be enriched by readings of some of Fabio’s writings, notes and reflections on some of the events he had witnessed.