Ex-DSI chief faces lawsuit for blaming 2010 crackdown on Abhisit, Suthep

The Supreme Court has accepted a lawsuit against a former government investigator who dared to accuse Abhisit and Suthep of murder for ordering the bloody military crackdown on anti-establishment red-shirt protesters in 2010.

On 9 June 2017, the Supreme Court accepted a lawsuit against Tharit Pengdit, former Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Pol Lt Col Wanphong Khotcharak, former DSI Deputy Director-General, and Pol Maj Yutthana Praedam, and Pol Capt Piya Raksakul, investigating officers.

The four comprised the team tasked with investigating the violent crackdown on United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) demonstrators, the main red shirt faction, between April-May 2010.

In 2012 they pressed murder charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, both of the Democrat Party, for authorising the crackdown that took more than 90 lives and injured over 2,000 people.

Abhisit and Suthep retaliated by accusing the four of corruption and propagating false accusations against them, claiming that the DSI did not have the authority to investigate the crackdown in the first place. The Supreme Court’s ruling contradicts previous verdicts of the Court of First Instance and the Appeal Court, who dismissed charges.

In February 2016, the Appeal Court dismissed the murder charges against Abhisit and Suthep. The court reasoned that the two authorised the crackdown via the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), an agency formed to handle the 2010 red shirt protesters, while they were still PM and Deputy PM.

As the two held public posts at the time, the Court of Appeal concluded that only the Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) had the authority to process their cases. The DSI, by this ruling, had no authority to investigate the case.

Earlier in 2015, Sansern Poljieak, Secretary-General of the NACC, had announced that the Commission had reached a resolution to withdraw corruption and malfeasance allegations related to the 2010 crackdown against Abhisit, Suthep, former Army Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda and military officers under his command.

The NACC concluded that the 2010 red shirt protest was not peaceful and that there were armed militants among the demonstrators. It was therefore reasonable for the CRES to authorise armed personnel to reclaim the demonstration venues in Bangkok. The NACC concluded that members of the military would be charged instead on an ‘individual basis’ since it has been repeatedly proven that disproportionate force was used by authorities resulting in the deaths of demonstrators.

In the four years after the April-May 2010 crackdown, the Criminal Courts heard 20 cases involving 30 deaths that took place during the massacre. The courts ruled that 18 out of the 30 were killed by bullets fired by 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 how the excessive and unnecessary use of force by the military caused many deaths and injuries.

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, where the military deployed snipers.

Similar findings were presented in September 2012 by the independent Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT), which recommended that the authorities “address legal violations by all parties through the justice system, which must be fair and impartial”.

The preliminary hearing in the case against the four officers will be held at 9 am on 21 August 2017.

The red-shirt protest in April 2010 (Photo by Noppakow Kongsuwan)