BANGKOK — The mother of a medic volunteer shot dead by soldiers during a crackdown on protesters in 2010 said on Monday she has lost all hope for justice under the current military-backed government.
Phayaw Akkahad, whose daughter Kamonkate Akkahad died along with five others inside a temple, said the only possibility of justice for her daughter rests with the next government, who may revive the investigation. The military prosecutor in 2019 dismissed all charges against the soldiers identified by a civilian court as the killers of the temple victims.
“To tell you frankly, I can’t do anything anymore, because they have controlled this country completely,” Phayaw said of the armed forces. “They try everything they can to make people forget.”
Kamonkate, or “Nurse Kate,” was shot dead on May 19, 2010, while tending to the wounded inside Wat Pathum Wanaram, a Buddhist temple designated as “Safe Zone” by the government at the time. Five other people, including emergency first responders, also died under the hail of gunfire.
A court inquest in 2013 ruled that eight soldiers posted on BTS Skytrain tracks in front of the temple were responsible for killing the victims. The judges said forensic evidence gathered at the crime scene implicated the soldiers beyond reasonable doubt, and no one else in the vicinity could have committed the killings.
Phayaw said she hopes that the next general elections, slated for 2023, will bring in a more democratic government independent of the military influence who can pursue the legal process once again.
“That is my hope,” she said. “Even though it’s been 11 years, the case’s statute of limitation is 20 years. So I have 9-10 years left. I still have time. I’ll have to make it work.”
Her attorney, Winyat Chatmontree, said on the phone that he is of the same opinion.
“I agree with Nurse Kate’s mother that we have to wait for the right time, so there won’t be any interference from any level,” Winyat said. “We are most concerned about possible interference.”
He added, “As a lawyer, I hope that someone will be held responsible. We have to let people know the truth of what happened.”
More than 90 people were killed during the Redshirt protests in April to May 2010, which were brought to an end by a military assault on May 19, 2010. The fatalities include demonstrators, soldiers, medics, bystanders, and two foreign journalists.
The Department of Special Investigation, or DSI, was later appointed by the civilian government that took power in 2012 to establish facts of the crackdown and prosecute those responsible for the killings.
The effort has gone nowhere. Phayaw said the last written communication from the DSI was in 2020, when the department informed her that military court prosecutors had decided to drop charges against the eight soldiers due to “a lack of evidence.” The decision was made a year earlier, in 2019.
“The Military Prosecution Office has given its opinion that this case has no circumstantial witnesses or any other evidence that can confirm the guilt of the eight suspects,” part of the DSI letter, dated May 25, 2020, read.
Maj. Parumtri Buato, an officer in charge of the Military Prosecution Office, declined to speak on the phone why the prosecutors came to their conclusion despite evidence laid down by the 2013 court inquest.
Parumtri said any interview can only be given after a written request is submitted to his office.
But DSI Spokesman Maj. Worranan Srilum confirmed that the investigation is now “temporarily suspended,” and can only be reopened if “new evidence” emerges.
“Under the law, we have no power to investigate the case for the moment, because there is no cause for prosecuting the accused parties,” Worranan said by phone. “But we are not prohibited from gathering evidence. If there’s any other new evidence, we’ll be happy to hear it.”
When asked why the 2013 court inquest does not count as evidence, Worranan declined to comment.
“I do not dare infringe on the justice process of other agencies,” the spokesman said. “It’s up to the [military] prosecutors to make their decisions.”
The Criminal Court on Monday also acquitted a group of Redshirt demonstrators charged with killing an army commander during the clashes on April 10, 2010.
The three Redshirts were accused of throwing grenades at a group of soldiers close to the protest site on Democracy Monument. Prosecutors say the blasts killed five soldiers, including the crackdown’s field commander, Col. Romklao Thuvatham.
But the court said in its verdict that there was insufficient evidence to implicate the trio. The witnesses brought forward by the prosecutors also proved to be unreliable, the verdict noted.
Upon the acquittal, the three defendants were sent back to prison where they were held in remand; they are still facing other charges in connection with the protests in 2010.
Col. Romklao’s widow said the verdict at least proved that there were armed elements who killed and wounded security officers among the demonstrators on that day.
“It wasn’t a peaceful and unarmed assembly as they have always claimed,” Nicha Hiranburana Thuvatham wrote online.