Charges against Abhisit, Suthep over 2010 military crackdown dismissed

The Appeal Court has dismissed murder charges against Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister, and Suthep Thaugsuban, his former deputy, over ordering the violent military crackdown on the anti-establishment red-shirt protesters during the April-May 2010 political violence.

On Wednesday morning, 17 February 2016, the Appeal Court confirmed the ruling of the Court of First Instance and dismissed murder charges against Abhisit, the head of the Democrat Party, and Suthep, former deputy PM under Abhisit.

The two were accused of murder and indicted by prosecutors of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) for authorising military and police officers to reclaim several venues in Bangkok city centre from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) demonstrators, the main red shirt faction, between April-May 2010.

More than 90 people died and over 2,000 people were injured during the military crackdown on red shirt protesters.

The Appeal Court reasoned that the two authorised such orders via the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), an agency formed to handle the 2010 red shirt protesters with Suthep as Director, while they were still PM and Deputy PM. Therefore, the DSI does not have the authority to investigate the case.

As the two were then holding public posts, only the Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has the authority to process the case and submit a case file to the Division of Holders of Political Positions under the Supreme Court.

Suthep said after the ruling that he is not worried and is willing to cooperate with the judicial process of the court, adding that the NACC earlier ruled that he and Abhisit were not guilty for authorising the 2010 crackdown.

Abhisit, however, said that the case is not yet finalised because the plaintiff might request to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.

Chokchai Angkaew, a lawyer representing families of victims of the 2010 crackdown, vowed that he will appeal the ruling and collect additional evidence on the case, saying that being a PM or Deputy PM does not mean that one can authorise murder.

In December 2015, Sansern Poljieak, the Secretary-General of the NACC, announced that the NACC had reached a resolution to withdraw corruption and malfeasance allegations against Abhisit, Suthep, Gen Anupong Paochinda, the former Army Chief, and other military officers under his command for authorising the 2010 military crackdown on red shirt protesters.

The NACC concluded that the 2010 red shirt protest was not peaceful and that there were armed militants among the demonstrators. Therefore, the CRES had to authorise armed personnel to reclaim the demonstration venues in Bangkok.

Although the military and police officers had to carry arms to protect themselves during the crackdown in accordance with ‘international standards’, if it is proven later that the officers used weapons ‘unnecessarily’ which resulted in the deaths of demonstrators, the officers and their commanders shall be charged on an ‘individual basis’.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) will carry out investigations of military officers who allegedly used weapons ‘unnecessarily’ which resulted in loss of life, the NACC added.

In the four years after the April-May 2010 crackdown, the Criminal Court ruled on 30 deaths in a total of 20 cases concerning those killed in the massacre. According to the rulings, 18 out of the 30 were killed by bullets coming from the military. These include Fabio Polenghi, an Italian photo-journalist, Kunakorn Srisuwan, a 13-year-old child, and Pan Kamkong, a red-shirt taxi driver. However, none of the inquests specified the individual army officers responsible for the deaths.

Human Rights Watch’s May 2011 report, Descent into Chaos: Thailand’s 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown, documented that excessive and unnecessary force by the military caused many deaths and injuries during the 2010 political confrontations.

The high number of casualties – including unarmed demonstrators, volunteer medics and first responders, reporters, photographers, and bystanders – resulted in part from the enforcement of “live fire zones” around the UDD protest sites in Bangkok, where sharpshooters and snipers were deployed by the military. Similar findings were presented in September 2012 by the independent Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT), which recommended the authorities “address legal violations by all parties through the justice system, which must be fair and impartial.”