BANGKOK — A court on Wednesday convicted former Democrat Party executive Suthep Thaugsuban and five others on charges of insurrection for their roles in street protests against the elected government back in 2013 and 2014.
Suthep was sentenced to 5 years in prison for the protests, which culminated in the military coup that toppled Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration in May 2014. The court declined to suspend their sentences, though it is not clear as of publication time whether Suthep and others would be granted a bail release while they appeal the verdict.
Defendants who were given jail sentences alongside Suthep include Digital Economy Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senniam.
Buddhipongse and Thaworn were sentenced to 7 and 5 years in prison, respectively, while Nataphol got 6 years and 16 months.
Speaking briefly to reporters, Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam said the trio has immediately lost their seats in the Cabinet, since the law bans individuals who are convicted and given jail terms by the court to hold ministerial offices.
The other two defendants found guilty of the same charges were Suriyasai Katasila and Taya Teepsuwan, who is married to the Education Minister. The court handed down a sentence of 2 years for Suriyasai, and 1 year and 8 months for Taya.
Suthep told reporters before entering the courthouse that he is willing to face any legal repercussions for his actions.
“Our fight was the fight for the country,” Suthep, 71, said.
The former Deputy Prime Minister quitted his post as the vice chairman of the Democrat Party in late 2013 to form a group called the People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King as Head of State – or known in English as the People’s Democratic Reform Committee – with an aim to oust Yingluck’s government and implement unspecific set of reforms before a new election can be held.
State prosecutors had accused the Suthep and 38 other protest leaders of treason, sedition, voter suppression, as well as five other charges for the campaign.
The city-wide protests, billed as the “Bangkok Shutdown,” lasted for seven months and came to an end when army chief Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power on May 22, 2014.
“All of the 39 defendants have come to terms with the verdict, no matter how it will turn out,” Suthep said prior to today’s verdict. “Our struggle saw 24 people dead and over 900 people wounded. Some of us already went into prison, so no matter what will be, will be.”
He added, “We will take responsibility for it, we respect the law and justice system.”
The official death toll was put at 27 by Bangkok’s emergency medical service center, with some of the victims as young as 4 years old.
At the height of the protest from 2013 to 2014, Suthep led thousands of demonstrators to occupy key intersections and government institutions across the capital to pressure then-PM Yingluck to resign and install a new unelected government to “reform the country.”
The Constitutional Court eventually removed Yingluck from office in May 2014 on the grounds that her Cabinet unfairly transferred an official from his post in 2011.
Citing the need to restore public order, the army declared a martial law on May 20, 2014 and ousted the remnants of Yingluck’s government two days later in a coup led by Gen. Prayut, who named himself the new Prime Minister.