Thailand: Abhisit, Suthep charged with murder over 2010 crackdown

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 7, 2012

Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has said it will charge former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and then deputy prime minister Suthep Thuagsuban with premeditated murder for their involvement in the death of a taxi driver during the crackdown on the anti-government red shirt protests in May 2010, where about 90 people were killed. Both will be summoned to acknowledge the charges on December 12, 2012.

The charges come after a court determined that taxi driver Phan Khamkong was killed by security forces during the crackdown – more similar cases and inquiries lead to the same conclusions.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI), police and Thai prosecutors jointly decided to charge the former leader and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban under article 288, the section of the Thai criminal code that deals with murder, said DSI chief Tarit Pengdith. “Their actions — repeatedly sending the armed forces against civilians — show an intention to endanger life,” he said.

Ex-Thai PM to face murder charge“, by Thanaporn Promyamyai, AFP, December 6, 2012

The timing of the charges is no coincidence as the parliament is currently in recess until December 21 and Abhisit is not protected by its immunity. DSI chief Tharit Pengdith has been lining up the charges against the two Democrat Party politicians earlier this year.

Last month Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government comfortably survived a vote of no-confidence. Emboldened, it is now considering pushing for amendments to the constitution and another attempt to bring forward the so-called “reconciliation bills” is expected. Depending on which version will be eventually passed, it states that all charges and verdicts related to political protests between 2005 and May 10, 2011 (so a few days before the May 19 crackdown) will be dropped, including the verdict against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Some analysts said the charges were a way for the ruling Puea Thai Party to pressure the opposition into accepting a broad amnesty deal that could whitewash guilt on both sides of the conflict and bring Thaksin home from his self-imposed exile in Dubai.

“It’s a political game and a way for Puea Thai to gain the upper hand by forcing their opposition to accept some sort of amnesty deal,” Kan Yuenyong, director of Siam Intelligence Unit, a think tank in Bangkok, told Reuters.

Former Thai PM Abhisit charged over crackdown deaths“, by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Reuters, December 6, 2012

This decision also highlights the very flexible nature of DSI chief Tharit towards whoever is currently in power. Just a few years ago, Tharit was focussed to prosecute the red shirt leaders and not put the blame for the deaths during the protests on the army after the crackdown, leading to inconclusive reports. Now, as seen above, he is working against those the used to serve. The DSI has also now accepted more other cases to investigate allegations of irregularities of big projects and constructions, especially against the Democrat-led Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, whose Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra is up for re-election in February.

Even if Abhisit and Suthep will face trial, it can take years of legal process until this eventually goes to court – and this is just over the death of one person during the protests. Nevertheless, it is a sign that those cases are being very slowly progressed. However, this decision is rooted in political consequences and will cause further political consequences, as the current political climate could rise again.

However, one crucial section that is responsible during the clashes and the crackdown is still being left untouched: the armed forces have so far been not charged and even the slightest hint by DSI chief Tharit has been met with so much uproar that he caved in and apologized.