BANGKOK — Redshirts will not gather publicly to mark the fifth anniversary of the military assault on Redshirt protesters tomorrow, in compliance with the junta's ban on political activities, according to a top leader of the movement.
Thida Thawornseth, deputy chairperson of the Redshirts' official umbrella organization, the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), said a large gathering like in previous years could draw "trouble" from the junta, which outlawed public gatherings after seizing power from a Redshirt-backed government one year ago.
Soldiers storming the Redshirts' encampment in Bangkok's financial district on 19 May 2010.
"Relatives of the deceased will hold separate religious ceremonies in different places on their own," Thida told Khaosod yesterday. "Redshirts will also hold religious ceremonies in small groups."
On 19 May 2010, the military mounted a violent assault on thousands of Redshirt demonstrators who had been occupying Bangkok's financial district for a month and a half. The crackdown followed weeks of skirmishes between the protesters and security forces, transforming parts of Bangkok into a war zone. More than 90 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the unrest.
In the past, tens of thousands of Redshirts have assembled in Bangkok to mark two key events of the crackdown – the military assaults of 10 April and 19 May. Yet the ruling junta’s tight lid on political activities has forced Redshirts to scrap both plans this year.
Last month, the junta blocked Redshirts' attempt to organize a religious ceremony commemorating the bloody confrontation of 10 April 2010. After the public event was canceled, soldiers went further and asked relatives of victims who died in the crackdown to conduct private ceremonies at their homes, instead of attend a Buddhist ceremony at the same temple.
Speaking to Khaosod yesterday, Thida said she hoped the junta would allow Redshirts and relatives of the victims to commemorate the anniversary in peace tomorrow.
"If the government still prevents them from holding [private ceremonies], it means that the government is too hostile to the people," Thida said. "I don't mind obstructing people who intend to hold political rallies, but in this case, they are even paranoid of people who want to hold religious ceremonies. That is a human rights violation."
The chairman of the junta, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, was one of the commanders behind the crackdown five years ago.
Yesterday, a small group of Redshirts held a religious ceremony in Ratchaburi province in memory of Maj.Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol, a rogue general who sided with Redshirts during the protests in 2010. Maj.Gen. Khattiya, aka Commander Red, was shot by a sniper on 13 May 2010 and died in the hospital four days later.
Security officers did not interfere with the ceremony.
Compensation fund inquiry
Thida, the UDD's deputy chairperson, also criticized Thailand’s anti-corruption agency for launching an investigation into members of the previous government who oversaw a program that provided financial compensation to families of the 2010 crackdown victims.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has charged former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and 34 of her Cabinet members with abuse of power for the payments, totaling 1.9 billion baht, which the NACC said was delivered to maintain political support from the Redshirts.
"It is considered an abuse of power that damaged the country's finances and budgets, because 1.921 billion baht payment was handed out with the intention to score political gain," said NACC member Vicha Mahakhun on 14 May.
Thida said the Yingluck administration processed the payments legally, and noted other precedents, such as the government's financial compensation to victims of the pro-democracy uprising in 1992.
"Does the NACC want the relatives of the deceased to return the money?" Thida said. "They may return the money to you, but can you give back lives of their relatives?"
Payao Akhard, who daughter was killed in the crackdown on 19 May 2010, said she was angered by the NACC's suggestion that the compensation money was unusually high.
"They say 7.5 million baht per [deceased] person is too high, so how much does the NACC value these people's lives?" Payao asked. "And how much do you [NACC members] value your own lives?"