BANGKOK — Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has formally acknowledged the "abuse of power" charge filed against him for his role in the deadly crackdown on Redshirt protesters in 2010.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit dispatched his lawyer, Bundit Sitthipan, to hear the charge on his behalf at the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) headquarters today.
Abhsit’s deputy at the time, Suthep Thaugsuban, was also summoned to acknowledge the charge. Bundit said he is still "coordinating" with Suthep, who led the anti-government protests that preceded the May 2014 coup and is now living as a monk in Surat Thani.
Soldiers fire in the direction of Redshirts on Rama IV Road in Bangkok, 14 May 2010.
In February the NACC charged Abhisit and Suthep with “abuse of power” for failing to stop the use of excessive violence against civilians in the military crackdown they authorized on Redshirt protesters in April – May 2010. More than 90 people were killed in the violence, including demonstrators, soldiers, rescue workers, and two foreign journalists.
The charge is a preliminary step in an impeachment process against the politicians. If the NACC continues with the case, Abhisit and Suthep’s fate will be determined by the junta-appointed interim parliament, who will vote on whether to retroactively impeach the pair and thereby ban them from political office for five years.
Bundit, the lawyer who represented Abhisit today, declined to say whether military commanders involved the operation, such as the current Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, would be summoned as witnesses in the investigation.
"How many people will be summoned and how many witnesses there are depends on the NACC. I cannot say at the moment," Bundit said.
Abhisit previously urged the NACC to interview the army commanders who led the crackdown, saying they would know more details about the operation.
In a response to Abhisit's remark, Gen. Prayuth, who commanded the First Region Army in 2010, said he was willing to testify before the NACC. Gen. Prayuth led the coup last May and was later chosen as Prime Minister by an interim parliament whose members he appointed.
Speaking to reporters today, Bundit said he "is not troubled" by the charge against Abhisit, who he insists acted in accordance with the Emergency Decree that was imposed over Bangkok at the time.
"It went through every correct procedure. Everything was documented," Bundit said.
However, the lawyer did express concern that the impeachment process may be affected by "extralegal power and external pressure," though he did not elaborate.
Tens of thousands of Redshirt demonstrators occupied parts of Bangkok in March 2010 to demand a new election. On 10 April 2010, Abhisit ordered the military to disperse the protesters on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, but the operation was called off after security officers were attacked by shadowy militants known as theBlackshirts. Following a month of skirmishes between protesters and security officers, the Abhisit government authorized another military operation in May 2010 against the protesters. Redshirt leaders eventually surrendered and called off the protest on 19 May 2010, after at least 90 people – mostly civilians – had died.
Abhisit, Suthep, Gen. Prayuth, and other members of the government at the time have sought to distance themselves from the fatalities, shifting the blame to the Blackshirt militants who were allegedly allied with the Redshirt protesters.
Redshirt protesters fire slingshot at the soldiers, 16 May 2010
Human rights groups have also faulted Thai authorities for failing to hold state officials accountable for the 2010 crackdown and accused the NACC of using a "double standard" against Redshirt groups and politicians.
In January, the NACC successfully brought about the impeachmentof former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the government toppled in the 22 May coup and is wildly popular among Redshirts. The agenecy also recently began prosecutionagainst former Redshirt-allied Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat for authorizing a police crackdown on Yellowshirt demonstrators in 2008.
In his interview with the reporters today, Abhisit's lawyer dismissed the "double standard" accusation, drawing a contrast between the 2008 crackdown on Yellowshirt protesters and the unrest in 2010.
"In 2008, the People's Alliance for Democracy did not have any weapons, and the Emergency Decree wasn't imposed back then," Bundit said, "But the crackdown in 2010 was a different matter. There were Blackshirt militants. How can anyone argue that there was no armed militants? The foreign media reported it. Even though these media agencies were based in other countries, they could still see it. Therefore, the facts are different."
He added, "How can it be double standard? Double standards are when the same facts get judged differently. But these situations are different. How can people claim it’s a double standard?"