BANGKOK — Deliberation on the government-sponsored draft of the amnesty bill in Parliament yesterday was punctuated by heated arguments, heckling, and drastically divergent narratives of what happened during the 2010 crackdown – the central issue that the amnesty bill was designed to resolve.
Proposed by Worachai Hema, an MP of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, the bill promises amnesty to protesters charged or convicted of crimes during political protests in recent years, including both Redshirt and rival Yellowshirt demonstrators.
The crimes range from looting and resisting arrests, to arson attacks and discharging firearms at security forces.
The bill, Worachai explained, was written to offer legal absolution to these "political prisoners" who committed the crimes as a form of resistance to authorities.
However, Democrat Party politicians Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban, who served as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister during the crackdown, would still face legal prosecution for their roles in authorising the military operation that left over 90 people dead, mostly civilians.
The leaders of the official Redshirts organisation, the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), would also continue to face charges of "terrorism."
The Democrat Party has opposed the bill, saying it would give amnesty to criminals who killed security forces and damaged private and state properties.
Many Democrat leaders voiced concern that the Pheu Thai Party might try to secretly amend the bill to include former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the brother of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who is living in self-imposed exile to evade a corruption conviction over a land purchase.
Democrat MPs, who are known for their royalist stance, also cast the bill as 'get out of jail free card' for prisoners convicted of lese majeste (insulting the monarchy). However, Pheu Thai MP and Redshirt leader Nattawut Saikuea pushed back against that claim.
"The objective of this law is to grant amnesty to people of every shirt colour, but it does not extend to those who commit the crimes under Section 112 of the Criminal Laws," said Nattawut, referring to the lese majeste law.
Other Pheu Thai MPs spoke in Parliament about "the cruel government" under Abhisit that murdered unarmed protesters, which quickly drew protests from Democrats who insisted that the government at the time acted with restraint, and that it was the protesters who engaged in thuggish and unlawful behaviours, such as burning down buildings.
The exchanges highlighted the conflicting narratives about the violence that occured during the military operation between April-May 2010.
According to the Redshirt and Pheu Thai narrative, the protesters are entirely innocent. Occasional gunfire with security forces and the arson attacks that occured on the last day of the protest are attributed to unknown militants or even covert agents of the government, according to this view.
While the court has acquitted many Redshirts originally charged with such crimes, strong evidence still suggests that Redshirts, or their allies, were responsible for some of the violence. For example, video footage from 10 April 2010 shows militants embedded in the Redshirt crowds shooting at oncoming soldiers.
However, the Democrat Party's account of the unrest often appears even more ludicrious, with some politicians arguing that the military operating under Abhisit′s government did not kill any civilians or protesters during the crackdown – a bold claim considering more than 90 people died between April-May 2010.
The Democrats have blamed these deaths solely on the so-called Blackshirts, the shadowy armed militants believed to be allied with the Redshirts. However, the claim contradicts substantial evidence and witnesses accounts that point to soldiers, who were authorised to use live ammunition, as responsible for many deaths in the crackdown.
The latest court inquest into deaths during the crackdown revealed that six civilians at Wat Pathunwanararm Temple were killed on 19 May 2010 by members of the military, even though the temple was declared a "safe zone" by authorities.
Democrat MPs present at today's parliamentary session continued to deny the findings of the inquests. For example, Suthep, the former Deputy Prime Minister, flatly denied that the military ever used excessive violence against protesters.
"The soldiers were loyal to His Majesty the King. They knew they were the nation′s troops. They acted according to my orders within the lawful power," Suthep said before Parliament.
He went even further, stating that the military had never deployed any snipers, contrary to what Pheu Thai MPs have claimed. The remark was protested by Khattiyar Sawasdipol, a Pheu Thai MP and daughter of a Redshirt-allied retired general who was mortally wounded by snipers near the protest site on 13 May 2010.
Appearing incensed, Khattiyar showed pictures of her bloodied father, Maj.Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol, moments after he was shot by snipers.
"Suthep is lying right inside the Parliament," she charged.
Suthep responded by saying that he genuinely does not know who was responsible for Maj.Gen. Khattiya′s death, but suggested, "Maybe your father was shot by one of your own people?"
Pheu Thai MPs were immediately stirred and shouted angrily before the House Speaker ordered them to calm down. Afterwards, Khattiyar calmly told Suthep, with hints of suppressed anger in her voice, that people already know who murdered her father anyways.
The debate was soon brought to a close. A committee, including members of the Democrat Party, was established to amend the motion, estimated to take around seven days.
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