BANGKOK — A court on Monday found a group of anti-government protest leaders not guilty of multiple crimes for their 2008 siege of the parliament that turned fatal.
The protest, which sought to topple the government aligned with former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, was protected by the constitution and did not constitute sedition despite a confrontation with riot police, the Criminal Court said in its verdict.
Although prosecutors argued that protesters fought with police using various weapons, the judges ruled the violence only broke out after officers fired tear gas at the crowd.
All charges filed against the 21 leaders of the movement, called Yellowshirts, were subsequently dismissed. Those charged include key Yellowshirts like Sondhi Limthongkul, Pipob Thongchai, Suriyasai Katasila and Veera Somkwamkid.
The Yellowshirts besieged the parliament building in October 2008 in a bid to oust the pro-Thaksin government at the time. Protest leaders accused Thaksin, who was toppled in a coup two years earlier, of interfering in Thai politics for his own gain via a “proxy” government.
Under orders to clear the parliament entrance, police fired rounds of tear gas at the protesters in the morning of Oct. 7, 2008. Some reported injuries caused by the rounds, and skirmishes between the two sides lasted till nightfall. Two people died in the clashes and about 300 were wounded.
Prosecutors argued that protesters caused serious unrest in their resistance, but the court today ruled the protest had been peaceful for days. The violence sparked after police took action, prompting unprepared protesters to respond out of anger, the court ruled.
The government opposed by the Yellowshirts was later removed by a court order in December that year.