Thailand’s Supreme Court has dismissed criminal charges against a military-allied former prime minister and his deputy for their role in the heavy-handed crushing of the “red shirt” protests in May 2010, sparking condemnation from rights groups.
The supreme court this week ruled that criminal courts had no jurisdiction to try ex-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban.
Violence with the red-clad United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, allied to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, took place between April 7 and May 19, 2010. At least 98 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries occurred.
The case was brought in 2014, before Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was ousted as prime minister after weeks of violent anti-government protests by yellow-shirted backers of the royalist establishment.
Yingluck defeated Abhisit’s pro-monarchy and Bangkok elite Democrat Party in an election in 2011, the last democratic poll Thailand has seen.
“Letting Abhisit and Suthep off the hook for grave abuses because they held government positions violates basic principles of justice and international human rights law,” Human Rights Watch’s Asean chief Brad Adams said: “Despite overwhelming evidence that soldiers killed protesters, medics, reporters and bystanders during the 2010 upheavals, Thailand’s institutions are failing to ensure justice for those responsible for the bloody crackdown.”
The Department of Special Investigation ruled in September 2012 that 36 deaths were caused by gunshots fired by soldiers acting on the orders from a body under Suthep’s command.
In explaining the ruling, the court said both defendants ordered the crackdown in the line of duty.
It was ruled that the case could only be investigated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), responsible for malfeasance cases against public figures, shielding the military-allied pair from criminal prosecutions.
NACC president Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit said the agency was now revisiting evidence and witnesses to see if a case could be revived.
The NACC dropped the case in 2015, saying the soldiers performed their duty at a time when an emergency decree was in force. There were armed activists among the protesters, complicating the issue, it added.
The corruption-busting body has since been reconstituted.
After yesterday’s ruling, Abhisit posted on Facebook: “I regret the loss of life during those incidents, particularly when I could not prevent it. But I can confirm I made all-out efforts and told officials to avoid any operations that could lead to loss of life.”
The 2010 protests. Picture credit: Wikimedia