10th anniversary of the Red Shirt crackdown; justice still delayed, denied

10 April, 2020 marks 10 years since the military crackdown on the Red Shirt protest around the Ratchadamnoen area. This was a prelude to even more terrifying state-led violence in the following month. None of the perpetrators have ever been brought to justice.

Red Shirts people and the soldiers confronting each other around Makawan Bridge, Ratchadamnoen Nok Road on 10 April 2010

On 10 April 2010 the military sent in armed troops against the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) or the Red Shirts, who had organized mass protests against the government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The first of a series of crackdowns took place at Phan Fa Bridge and Ratchadamnoen Avenue during the day, and at the Khok Wua intersection, Tanao Road, the Democracy Monument, Satriwitthaya School and Dinso Road in the evening. 

The Thai military carried out the crackdown under the codename ‘Kho Khuen Phuen Thi’ (request to reclaim the area). The crackdown resulted in 26 deaths (21 civilians, 1 journalist (Hirayuki Muramoto, a Japanese Reuters photographer) and 5 soldiers.

The first to be shot was Kriangkrai Khamnoi, a 23-year-old tuk-tuk driver. He was shot at Makkhawan Bridge and died later. The court later ruled in the inquest that the fatal bullet was shot from the soldiers’ side.

After the crackdown, the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), a group of top government officials dealing with the UDD protests, insisted that government forces did not shoot protestors. The UDD denies having shot an M79 at the soldiers and say they do not know who did.

The Pheu Thai Party later showed a photograph indicating that Thai military violated the principles on the use of force.

Besides the protest in Bangkok, there were also several around the country. The UDD in Khon Kaen, Roi Et, Maha Sarakham, Phayao and Lamphun staged protests in front of the provincial halls. The UDD in Nakhon Ratchasima also staged a protest at the Ya Mo monument, a provincial landmark.

In judicial hearings between 2012 and 2015, the courts heard evidence in the inquests on 33 protesters. It ruled that 18 protesters were shot from the soldiers’ side, and in 15 cases the shooters could not be identified. There were no more inquests after the 2017 coup d’état despite a backlog of more than 50 cases.

In 2012, Tharit Pengdit, then Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), declared that investigators had decided to file a complaint against Abhisit and Suthep Thaugsuban, his Deputy Prime Minister, on charges of murder and attempted murder for their roles in command of the CRES.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 2017 upheld the previous courts by dropping the case. It ruled that Abhisit and Suthep had the legal authority to act as they did. Therefore, the case must be first brought to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). On 29 December 2013, the NACC dismissed the complaint against Abhisit, Suthep and Anupong Paochinda, the then army commander.

On 3 May 2019, a military court dismissed the case against 8 soldiers brought by Phayao Akkahad, mother of Kamonkade, a volunteer nurse who was killed at Wat Pathum Wanaram, in the final crackdown on 19 May 2010. It ruled that there was no evidence or witnesses to prove that the 8 soldiers were involved in killing civilians.

The UDD’s main demand was the dissolution of the unelected Abhisit-led government, which had ruled the country since 2008 after a Constitution Court decision had dissolved the Phalang Prachachon Party (PPP) led by Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. 

PPP was mainly composed of former members of the Thai Rak Thai Party that was itself dissolved after the 2006 coup d’état which ousted its leader, Thaksin Shinawatra. PPP voters’ dissatisfaction was stoked even more by many media reports that the military had played a large role in influencing some Thai Rak Thai MPs to join the opposition to take over parliament. This dissatisfaction led to mass protests in 2009, which were suppressed by the military.

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