Fragmentation Among Redshirts Highlighted By Amnesty Debate

    Ms. Payao Akhard (center)

    (24 July) The question
    about which version of amnesty bill should be adopted by the Parliament is exposing the different
    ideological lines among the Redshirts movements.

    Although the Redshirts have long been known
    as loose, fragmented groups – ranging from rural supporters of the former charismatic leader Thaksin
    Shinawatra and veteran politicians to urban intellectuals who push for a more liberal political
    system –  the recent debate on the amnesty bill is particularly polarising.

    When Pheu Thai Party campaigned for the election in early 2011, they promised
    dual efforts on granting amnesty to Redshirts protesters that are still detained for their alleged
    crimes during the 2010 protests and a legal prosecution of those responsible for the crackdown which
    left more than 90 people dead, mostly civilians.

    After Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra took the helm
    of the government, however, the efforts turned out to be somewhat vague – and disappointing for some
    of her supporters.

    Many political prisoners remained in jail, and legal action against the
    authorities at the time of the 2011 crackdown is limited to former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
    and his former Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban, while the military are virtually exempted from the
    prosecution. 

    The decision not to hold the security forces accountable for their role
    in the crackdown appears in line with the current government′s soft approach to the military,
    perhaps to convince the powerful armed forces that the elected government is no threat to them and
    there is no need to repeat the 2006 military coup which ousted Ms. Yingluck′s brother, Thaksin
    Shinawatra.

    The amnesty bill proposed by Mr. Worachai Hema, an MP of Pheu Thai
    Party, reflects that attitude. It promises amnesty to all protesters charged with crimes related to
    the 2010 unrest and members of the security forces. The fates of Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep are not
    included in the bill, which means the legal case against them would continue.

    Former Deputy
    PM Chalerm Yoobamrung went even further, proposing an amnesty bill that encompassed all sides
    involved in political crisis since 2006. The get-out-of-jail card extends to Mr. Abhisit and Mr.
    Thaksin, who was convicted in a
    bsentia
    of corruption charge in 2007 (he insisted it was politically-motivated charge).

    Apparently
    frustrated by the administration′s reluctance to go after the military,  group of family
    members of civilians killed during the military operation that ended the Redshirts mass protests in
    2010 came up with their own draft of amnesty bill last week.

    The group, calling itself
    ?Families of 2010 Martyrs?, was represented by Ms. Payao Akhard and Mr. Pansak Srithep, who each
    lost a child in the closing days of the 2010 crackdown – allegedly – at the hands of the
    military.

    The ?Victims Families? version of the bill would only give amnesty to protesters who are
    not
    charged with serious crimes such as arson attacks on private properties (those who
    attacked state properties are exempted out of reasoning that they were expressing political
    statement), assaults on members of the public or security forces, and looting.

    The amnesty
    would also only cover soldiers who did not employ unnecessary violence. That means a soldier who
    shot dead an unarmed protester, even when operating under authorisation from the higher chain of
    command, would still be put on trial for murder-related charges along with his commanding
    officers.

    Prominent Pheu Thai politicians and Redshirts leaders, such as Mr. Weng Tojirakarn,
    Mr. Sombat Boon-ngarmanong, and Ms. Suda Rangupan, have accused Ms. Payao and Mr. Pansak of trying
    to slow down the process to pass amnesty bill by picking fight with the powerful military.

    According to those opposed to the ?Victims Families? amnesty bill, the effort to free
    detained Redshirts protesters should be a priority over the need to prosecute the security forces.
    They expressed their fear that the military would never allow Ms. Yingluck′s government to pass such
    a bill, ruining the chance of any little gain there might be altogether, and might even launch a
    military coup in retaliation.

    Some Redshirts also openly questioned the motives of Ms. Payao
    and Mr. Pansak, indirectly accusing them of being collaborators with the rival Democrat Party which,
    strangely enough, had expressed its support for the ?Victims Families? amnesty bill.

    As the
    opposition to Ms. Payao and Mr. Pansak approached the definition of the smear campaign, another blow
    was landed today when a letter denouncing the duo′s amnesty bill has surfaced on the internet. The
    letter was purportedly signed by 10 relatives of victims killed during the 2010 crackdown, and
    claimed that they were not consulted about the amnesty bill by Ms. Payao and Mr Pansak.

    The
    letter went on to affirm that the relatives remain committed to Ms. Yingluck and Mr. Thaksin, that
    they have always been grateful of efforts by Pheu Thai Party to help relieve their distress, and
    that they would not betray the government or accept any payment by the opposition party to undermine
    Pheu Thai Party.

     It also expresses support for all other amnesty bills, including the
    ones proposed by Mr. Worachai and Mr. Chalerm.

    Some Redshirts-allied activists are alarmed by
    the letter, seeing it as another attempt by Pheu Thai hardliners to isolate Ms. Payao and Mr. Pansak
    who had adopted an aggressive stance toward the government and the military alike.

    One of
    them, Mr. Somsak Jiamteerasakul, is even accusing the government of lackmailing its Redshirts
    supporters by tying the freedom of their fellow protesters in jail with amnesty for the military.

    According to this view, Pheu Thai politicians? insistence that one has to choose between
    soldiers-and-protesters amnesty bill and a bill that was doomed to fail is a false dilemma – as
    the government does have the executive power to temporarily release the prisoners on its own
    without the need for amnesty bill yet it does not choose to do so.

    Moreover, the debate
    highlights the split in the Redshirts movements: separating the large faction backed by Pheu Thai
    politicians that is always supportive of the government from handfuls of activists who advocate for
    greater independence from Mr. Thaksin.

    It is also clear that there are wings of the Redshirts
    that are increasingly frustrated, or even disillusioned, by Yingluck administration that seems to
    renegade on its promises on issue like justice for 2010 crackdown victims.

    Meanwhile,
    prisoners jailed for lese majeste (insult of the Royal Family) such as Mr. Somyos
    Prueksakasemsuk and Ms. Daranee Chancherngsilpakul are not explicitly included in any draft of
    amnesty bill, despite calls from the more liberal faction inside the Redshirts.

    The
    Yellowshirts and Democrat Party have already announced they will not accept amnesty for lese majeste
    prisoners, claiming that their offence is criminal rather than political nature, and there is no
    sign that neither Pheu Thai Party nor the official Redshirts leadership would dare wade into the
    highly-sensitive issue – another example of reluctance on the part of the government to challenge
    the status quo.