BANGKOK — Thailand’s Criminal Court has dropped the murder case against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban for their roles in a deadly crackdown on protesters in 2010, citing a lack of jurisdiction.
Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep were charged with murder and attempted murder by the Division of Special Investigation (DSI) in 2011 for authorising a military crackdown on anti-government Redshirt protesters in April-May 2010.
However, the court ruled today that any alleged wrongdoing or abuse of power by Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep must be dealt with by the Supreme Court's Division for Holders of Political Office, as the two men were Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister at the time of the military operation.
The decision effectively ended all current criminal proceedings against the former leaders regarding the crackdown, which left over 90 people dead.
The ruling also transferred authority to pursue the charges from the DSI to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), citing the latter agency's responsibility over charges related to abuse of power and negligence by political office holders. Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep previously requested the court to appoint the NACC, not the DSI, as the prosecutor.
The 2010 crackdown came as a response to the tens of thousands of Redshirt demonstrators that had descended on the capital city and occupied Bangkok’s financial districts to demand a fresh election.
Troops were first sent to disperse the Redshirts on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on 10 April 2010, but failed to break up the protesters. Skirmishes between the military and armed militants allied to the protesters erupted in May, turning parts of Bangkok into a warzone, before the military launched a final push that ended the protests on 19 May 2010.
The violence claimed the lives of more than 90 people, including demonstrators, soldiers, rescue workers, bystanders, and two foreign journalists. More than 1,000 people were also injured in the crackdown.
Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep denied the murder charges, claiming that shadowy "terrorists" and not security forces, were responsible for the deaths. Commanders of the Thai military have echoed this account, including Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the Royal Thai Army who is now the current Prime Minister.
According to Human Rights Watch, Gen. Prayuth told the DSI in 2012 to stop accusing soldiers of killing demonstrators and not report publicly on the progress of its investigations.
However, court inquests over the recent years have identified military forces as responsible for many of the deaths caused by the crackdown, including a soldier who was reportedly killed in a "friendly fire" in April 2010.
Footage from journalists and bystanders at the crackdown also show members of the military shooting indiscriminately into the crowds of protesters. One notorious video clip captures a group of soldiers firing weapons into a Buddhist temple in central Bangkok, killing six, including three volunteer medics who were taking shelter inside the sanctuary.
Today's decision by the Criminal Court is bound to anger many families of the 2010 unrest victims and supporters of the Redshirt faction, who have repeatedly accused Thailand’s judiciary system of harbouring a bias against members of their movement.
In contrast to the drawn-out inquiries into Mr. Abhisit and Mr. 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.
In addition, Thai courts and the NACC have swiftly investigated and punished pro-Redshirt politicians on other charges in only a matter of months.
Since 2007, Thai courts have successfully disbanded two political parties and removed three Prime Ministers allied to the Redshirts. This spring, it took only one month for Thailand’s Constitutional Court to find former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of unlawfully transferring an official, a verdict that forced Ms. Yingluck to vacate her office.
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