BANGKOK – Thailand’s national anti-graft agency has begun impeachment procedures against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban for authorizing a military crackdown on Redshirt protesters in 2010 that left over 90 people dead.
Vicha Mahakhun, spokesperson for the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), said today that Abhisit and Suthep should be charged with "abuse of power" for failing to stop the use of excessive violence against civilians between April – May 2010.
Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the Government House, 28 May 2010.
If found guilty by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the two Democrat Party leaders could be retrospectively impeached and banned from political office for five years.
"The two accused individuals, who held political office and authorized the operation to reclaim territory from the protesters, failed to order the cessation of, exercise judgment about, or adapt the use of military force and methods to control the operation in a more careful manner," Vicha said.
The two politicians will have 15 days to present testimony to the NACC, after which the agency will make a final decision on whether to submit the case to the NLA.
In April 2010, tens of thousands of Redshirt protesters rallied in Bangkok's financial district and on Ratchadamnoen Avenue to demand a fresh election to replace Abhisit, who was installed as Prime Minister after a pro-Redshirt government was removed in a court verdict in 2008.
Abhisit ordered the military to disperse the protesters on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on 10 April 2010, but the operation was later called off due to resistance from armed elements among the demonstrators. Another effort to disperse the protesters commenced in May and culminated in a final assault on the Redshirts’ main camp on 19 May.
At least 90 people were killed in the two months of violence, including demonstrators, soldiers, rescue workers, and two foreign journalists.
Soldiers fire their weapons as they advanced on the Redshirt position on Rama IV Road in Bangkok, 13 May 2010
Abhisit, Suthep, and military commanders have insisted that security officers were forced to combat shadowy "terrorists" that were allied to the Redshirts.
However, Vicha said today that the protest area "was not wholly composed of violent or armed elements, but also demonstrators without weapons, and other civilians who were not related to the rallies."
The NACC official also cited previous court inquests that have attributed the deaths of some civilians to security officers.
"The court inquests determined that their deaths were caused by the operation of military officers," Vicha said. "Therefore, this case constitutes as a behavior that potentially amounts to abuse of bureaucratic duty, which is the basis for impeachment of the two accused individuals from political office."
A separate investigation will determine whether "other state officials" will be held responsible for their actions in the 2010 crackdown, Vicha said.
According to the NACC official, the impeachment hearing is separate from the potential lawsuit the two politicians could face in court. Last August, the NACC was granted authority to press charges against Abhisit and Suthep in the Supreme Court's Division for Holders of Political Office after a Criminal Court dismissed the murder case against them.
Vicha said the commission is still working on the lawsuit, which will require further investigation.
Human rights groups have repeatedly faulted Thai authorities for failing to hold state officials accountable for the 2010 crackdown.
The NACC has also been accused of harboring a bias against the Redshirts. Last month, the agency successfully brought about the impeachment of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the government toppled in the 22 May coup and is wildly popular among Redshirts.
The NACC also recently began prosecution against former Redshirt-allied Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat for authorizing a police crackdown on Yellowshirt demonstrators in 2008.