BANGKOK — The families of victims killed in a military crackdown on protesters in 2010 have requested to appeal a court verdict yesterday that dropped murder charges against the government leaders who ordered the operation.
Yesterday, the Criminal Court dismissed a murder case filed against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban over their authorization of the crackdown in 2010, citing a lack of jurisdiction.
According to the court, Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep must be tried by the Supreme Court's Division of Political Office Holders because the two men were in political office when the alleged crimes were committed. It is now up to the National Anti-Corruption Committee (NACC) to take up the case.
But relatives of the victims who died in the crackdown and their lawyers are urging the Attorney-General to appeal the court ruling.
"I believe it’s well within the authority of the Criminal Court to deliberate on the case," said Chokechai Angkaew, a lawyer who represents the victims' families. "Murdering people has nothing to do with political office."
The decision on whether to appeal the case rests with the Office of Attorney-General, who is currently "studying the case," its spokesperson, Wanchai Rujjanawong, said yesterday.
"This case is unprecedented," Mr. Wanchai said , "I cannot say much at the moment. We have to give time to the working team of the Attorney-General who is responsible for the case."
The Attorney-General prosecutor has 30 days to file an appeal.
Waiting for justice
The military crackdown in 2010 was an effort to quash mass Redshirt protests against Mr. Abhisit’s administration that began in March of that year.
More than 90 people, mostly civilians, were killed in clashes between security forces and demonstrators. The Division of Special Investigation (DSI) charged Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep with murder and attempted murder in late 2010 for authorizing the military operation.
Although Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep denied the charges, insisting that the fatalities were caused by militants allied to the protesters, court inquests have shown that soldiers operating under the government's orders were responsible for a majority of the deaths in the crackdown.
"I still want to see the wrongdoers punished," said Teerawat Chumchan, whose brother Attachai Chumchan was shot dead by soldiers near the entrance to Wat Pathumwanararm Temple on 19 May 2010. "But I can't do anything about it. I'm waiting for the prosecutor to file an appeal, and then I will consult with my lawyer about what to do."
Phayao Akhard, the mother of a volunteer medic who was shot dead inside Wat Pathumwanararm Temple on the final day of the crackdown, said she is preparing a letter to junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha asking to provide"justice" to the families of the victims.
"I never thought that it would happen," Ms. Phayao said. "As a family that lost my loved one, I will continue to seek justice for my daughter."
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the ruling in a report released today, calling it a “serious setback for accountability efforts in Thailand” and “an affront to basic justice and international law.”
The verdict fits into a larger trend of impunity, the report said, citing the repeated failure of governments since 2010 to prosecute those responsible for the violence.
“An important lesson from 2010 is that failure to end impunity will fuel future lawlessness and violence in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia Director. “This is particularly important now, when Thailand is living under a military junta that controls all state powers.”
Since staging a coup d'etat on 22 May, Thailand's military junta has banned public protests and intimidated the media in an effort to silence dissent. Over the past three months, the junta has arrested dozens of anti-coup protesters, many of whom are now facing trial in martial court.
Suriyan Polsrila, the widow of a Redshirt demonstrator shot dead by the military in 2010, says she is shocked by the verdict, but unsure of what to do next.
"I don't want to criticise anything at this time, because, as we all know, anyone who campaigns about anything gets arrested."