BANGKOK — Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will defend himself against charges related to his authorization of the 2010 crackdown by contesting a previous court ruling that found soldiers responsible for the deaths of civilians, his lawyer said.
Abhisit and his former deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, have been charged with abuse of power by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for launching the military operation on Redshirt protesters in 2010, which left over 90 people dead, mostly civilians. If proven guilty, the Democrat Party leaders could be retrospectively impeached and banned from politics for five years.
Soldiers take cover behind an armored vehicle as they advance on the Redshirt camp in Bangkok, 19 May 2010.
Abhisit’s lawyer, Bundit Sitthipan, submitted the former PM’s testimony to the NACC today, which consisted of six boxes of documents, photographs, and CDs.
Bundit told reporters the testimony explains the rationality behind each order Abhisit issued as head of the Center for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) at the time. The documents also reveal that Abhisit’s orders clearly instructed military commanders not to use violence against the protesters, his lawyer said.
According to Abhisit’s account, the violence that ensued was spurred by Redshirt-allied militants that soldiers were forced to confront.
Bunddi said that Abhisit specifically plans to dispute the 2013 court inquest that found soldiers responsible for the deaths of six unarmed civilians inside Wat Pathumwanararm Temple on the last day of the crackdown.
Abhisit will argue that the shooting started because members of the Redshirt organization the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) opened fire on soldiers first, his lawyer said.
"We have evidence that the UDD seized firearms from state officials to fire at security officers," Bundit said. "The soldiers were shot by the same bullets that are used by the military."
The claim counters the findings of the court inquest, which determined that no armed militants were in the vicinity of the temple at the time. The court also noted that the soldiers seen shooting into the temple on video footage captured by police do not appear to be taking cover or reacting to alleged attacks from the Redshirt-allied militants.
Redshirt protesters burn tires during clashes with soldiers in Bon Kai district of Bangkok, 17 May 2010.
The 2010 crackdown was an effort to disperse the thousands of Redshirt protesters who descended on Bangkok in March 2010 to demand a fresh election from Abhisit. In early April, the Redshirts escalated their protest by seizing the capital city's financial district, and the government declared an emergency situation in response.
On 10 April 2010, Abhisit ordered the military to disperse the protesters from Ratchadamnern Avenue, but the crackdown was called off after security officers ran into resistance from armed militants who became known as “Blackshirts.”
Another military operation was mounted in mid-May, culminating in the final assault on the protesters' camp in downtown Bangkok on 19 May 2010. More than 90 people were killed in clashes, including protesters, soldiers, medical workers, bystanders, and two foreign journalists.
Abhisit has formally named two members of his government as witnesses in the NACC inquiry: Gen. Anupong Paochinda and Thawil Pliensri, who were serving as army chief and head of national intelligence agency at the time.
"They are people who were directly involved in the operation," Bundit said. "The reason why we did not include Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the [current] Prime Minister, as a witness is because he was serving as deputy army chief at the time. It will overlap with Gen. Anupong."
Gen. Prayuth seized power from the Redshirt-backed government on 22 May 2014 and was later appointed as a Prime Minister by a rubber stamp parliament.
The lawyer added that Suthep, who led the mass anti-government protests that preceded the 22 May coup and is now living as a monk in southern Thailand, will file his own testimony to the NACC "in the next few days."
The NACC has also been tasked with pursuing a separate legal case against Abhisit and Suthep in the Supreme Court's Division for Holders of Political Office. The pair was initially charged with murder for their role the crackdown, but the Criminal Court dropped the case in 2014 and gave the NACC authority to prosecute the pair for "abuse of power" in Supreme Court instead.