Suthep Declines Court Summons Over Killing of Japanese Reporter

Soldiers confront Redshirt protesters on Din So Road, opposite Democracy Monument, in Bangkok on 10 April 2010.

BANGKOK — Former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban says he will not attend a court hearing over the killing of a Japanese reporter during the military crackdown on Redshirt protests he authorised in 2010.

Suthep was summoned to give testimony for a court inquest into the death of Muramoto Hiroyuki, the Reuters reporter who was shot dead while covering the clashes between Redshirt protesters and security forces on Din So Road on the night of 10 April 2010. 

The crackdown was authorized by Suthep and then-PM Abhisit Vejjajiva. 

Suthep, who is now living as a monk in southern Thailand after wrapping up a six month anti-government protest campaign earlier this year, said he would not attend the court hearing because he has already given testimonies in other court cases related to the 2010 crackdown, an official at the public prosecutor’s office said yesterday. 

According to the official, the court will issue another summons for Suthep to provide testimony in court on 25 November. It is unclear whether the former deputy PM will face any legal action if he refuses to attend the hearing. 

The inquest was convened by the Criminal Court to determine who was responsible for Mr. Muramoto’s death. The deaths of two Redshirt protesters, Wasan Phuthong and Tossachai Mek-ngamfah, will also be scruitinised in the same hearing.

Twenty-five people were killed in the crackdown on 10 April 2010, which was ordered in an attempt to clear Redshirt protesters from Ratchadamnoen Avenue, though it was later called off after a group of armed militants exchanged fire with security forces, killing five soldiers, including the commander of the operation. 

The Redshirt protests were eventually be quelled by another crackdown in May 2010. In total, more than 90 people were killed in the unrest. 

Suthep and Abhisit have repeatedly insisted on their innocence, claiming that the military operation was necessary to restore order in the capital city. They also alleged that many of the civilian casualties were in fact caused by "Blackshirt" militants allied to the protesters, not security forces. 

Commanders of the Thai military have echoed this account, including Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the 22 May coup.  

Although court inquests in the recent years have identified military forces as responsible for many of the deaths caused by the crackdown, no official has ever been held accountable. 

Murder charges filed against Abhisit and Suthep were thrown out by the Criminal Court this August. According to the judges, Thailand’s Criminal Court lacked jurisdiction over the case because Abhisit and Suthep were holders of political office at the time of their alleged crimes. 

The court then delegated the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to file a charge against the former leaders to the Supreme Court's Division for Holders of Political Office. 

In contrast to the drawn-out inquiries into Abhisit and Suthep’s murder charges, Thai authorities convicted 26 Redshirt demonstrators of charges related to the unrest in the first year after the crackdown. At least two Redshirt activists were jailed for 10 months before facing trials and never compensated for their time in prison even though they were eventually acquitted.

Suthep was also charged with insurrection earlier this year for paralyzing the nation's capital in a six-month protest against the Redshirt-allied government that was eventually toppled in the 22 May coup d'etat. 

 
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