BANGKOK — A court ruled today that the Thai military was responsible for the deaths of six civilians, including a pair of volunteer medics, who were seeking haven inside a temple during the 2010 crackdown on Redshirt protesters in Bangkok.
In a lengthy reading lasting almost an hour, a judge told a packed courtroom today that residues of bullets found inside the victims’ bodies were the same type of ammunition issued to soldiers operating in the area at the time of the shooting.
The ruling by the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court shed light on what is considered the darkest episode in the violence that gripped Bangkok between April-May 2010, when the military cracked down on Redshirt protesters who were demanding then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajeeva dissolve parliament and organize a new election.
The incident took place on the final day of the military operation, 19 May 2010, when hundreds of protesters took cover in Wat Pathumwanararm Temple as the military moved to break up the Redshirts’ main encampment nearby in Ratchaprasong Intersection.
Many of those seeking cover inside the temple were women, children, and elderly. Also present was a group of young volunteer medics who had set up a makeshift medical station near the temple’s gate.
According to witnesses, gunfire suddenly erupted inside the temple and lasted for hours. By nightfall, six people were discovered dead, including volunteer medics Kamonkate Akhard, 25, and Akaradech Khankaew, 22.
Of the six victims, five were killed inside the temple compound, while the other victim, Attachai Chumchan, 28, was found near the entrance of the temple.
The court said that video footage, taken by a group of policemen from the Royal Thai Police headquarters opposite the temple, clearly showed soldiers on the nearby Skytrain track shooting into the temple.
In an unprecedented move, judges also disputed soldiers’ explanation that they acted in necessary “self-defense” against armed militants who, according to soldiers, were embedded in the crowd around the temple and shooting at military personnel.
Critics of the Redshirts have frequently blamed the crackdown violence on the so-called Blackshirt militants, citing the firearms found inside the temple several weeks later that military officers said were left behind by the Blackshirts.
Some Democrat Party leaders, such as former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, even went as far as suggesting that the Blackshirts killed the six civilians in order to smear the government Abhisit’s government.
According to the findings of the court inquest announced today, there was no evidence that Blackshirt militants were present inside or around the temple during the shooting. The entire area had been secured by the military, the court said, and it was difficult to believe that so many journalists – some of them foreigners – had simply failed to spot the gunmen.
The soldiers’ testimony that they were simply returning fire from Blackshirts in the temple also contradicted the accounts of other soldiers in the area who testified they that did not see any armed militants with the demonstrators, the court said.
The judge also noted that in the video footage of soldiers on the Skytrain track shooting at the temple, the officers did not try to take cover or react to supposed attacks from the Blackshirts.
As for the weapons allegedly found inside the temple and shown to the press later, the court said there was no evidence that the firearms were found inside the temple immediately after the incident.
The court also questioned how alleged Blackshirts would be able to transport a cache of firearms into the temple without being detected by authorities who had heightened security around the protest site for days before the final military assault on 19 May 2010.
The judge added that security forces never sent these weapons to undergo extensive forensic testing, a reluctance he said was “suspicious.”
Additionally, contrary to claims circulated by Redshirt critics, forensic tests revealed that no gunpowder was found on the bodies of the six victims. Therefore, the judge said, it was clear that the victims were not related to the guns allegedly confiscated in the temple.
None of the court inquests into 2010 crackdown violence have found Blackshirts responsible for civilian deaths.