BANGKOK — On the anniversary of the military crackdown on Redshirt protesters in 2010, Thai junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha has asked media agencies to help tell the "true" story of the violence that claimed more than 90 lives.
"Media, help me. Don't throw away the evidence. I saw you taking many photographs," Gen. Prayuth said in a videotaped speech that will be aired on national television tonight. He was referring to the clashes between Redshirt demonstrators and soldiers, which started five years ago today.
Redshirts clash with soldiers in Bangkok on 10 April 2010.
"Hundreds of you reporters walked behind soldiers, you dodged the bullets with them," said Gen. Prayuth, who is considered an architect of the 2010 crackdown. "Why don’t you help me by speaking out? Okay?"
The events of the 2010 crackdown, which lasted between April and May, are still widely disputed among Thais. While Redshirts, human rights groups, and a series of court inquests say soldiers were responsible for most of the deaths, army commanders and the leaders of the government at the time have continued to blame militants who were allied to the protesters.
The operation was ordered by then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to disperse the tens of thousands of Redshirts who had descended on Bangkok to demand a new election. On 10 April 2010, clashes erupted between soldiers and the so-called Blackshirt militants, killing at least 20 civilians and five soldiers that first night.
By the time Redshirt leaders surrendered on 19 May 2010, more than 90 people, mostly civilians, had died.
In his speech today, Gen. Prayuth stressed that the military had no intention of harming civilians.
"Who would want to harm the people? Soldiers, police, officials, they have hearts too, you know," Gen. Prayuth said. "The government had to take care of you. The situation was not peaceful, so the government had to solve the problem. By which method, that has to be discussed. Whether it is right or wrong has to be ruled by the legal procedure. Don't distort facts or cause misunderstanding in the country, or among foreign countries. It’s embarrassing."
Abhisit and his former deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, are currently facing “abuse of power” charges for authorizing the operation. If proven guilty, the two Democrat Party politicians could be retrospectively impeached and banned from politics for five years.
Under orders from the junta, this is the first year that Redshirt activists will not gather in Bangkok to honor the victims of the crackdown.
The junta, which seized power from a Redshirt-backed government last May, has imposed a ban on all political gatherings, and specifically ordered Redshirt leadership not to organize any events to mark the crackdown's anniversary.
Yesterday, the junta also ordered the cancellation of a Buddhist ceremony organized by the families of victims in the crackdown. The memorial service was scheduled for today at a Buddhist temple in Pathum Thani, and was only open to close relatives of the deceased. However, military officers said they feared "ill-intentioned individuals" would "infiltrate" the event and make the ceremony a political affair.
"When I use my legal power, you say I restrict freedom, but how has freedom fared in the past?" Gen. Prayuth said today in the speech taped for Friday night. "Can it run the country? Were there protests? And when there were protests, who used weapons of war to shoot at demonstrators? … The group of people who did it in 2010 was the same group with 2013 and 2014."
Gen. Prayuth appeared to be referring to the shadowy assailants who attacked demonstrators opposed to the Redshirt-backed government in 2013 – 2014. Nearly 30 people died in the six months of anti-government protests, which culminated in the 22 May coup, led by Gen. Prayuth.
The anti-government protesters accused Redshirts of employing the Blackshirt militants to launch the attacks, but Redshirt leaders have repeatedly denied the accusation.