JATUPORN PROMPAN has become the latest – and most senior – red-shirt leader to be sent to jail, and this seems to be further weakening the movement.
Earlier, at least 12 leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) had been sentenced to imprisonment in separate cases. Some of them are serving time in prison while others have appealed the court verdicts against them and have been released on bail.
The Supreme Court last Thursday sentenced Jatuporn, the UDD chairman and a key Pheu Thai Party politician, to a year in jail for defaming former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Shortly after the verdict was reported, his Facebook fan page posted Jatuporn’s photo with a message thanking “all the democracy lovers” for their support.
“Till we meet again,” said the message, which stated that Jatuporn was at the Bangkok Remand Prison.
This was the fourth time he has been put behind bars over the past decade. In 2007, he and some other red-shirt leaders were detained after they surrendered on charges of inciting public disorder and opted not to seek bail.
In 2011, a court cancelled bail for Jatuporn in a terrorism case after finding that he broke some of the conditions for temporary release. Last year, his bail was revoked again after another violation of bail conditions. He was released temporarily early this year due to health reasons and his “show of remorse”, according to court.
The UDD was first formed in 2006 to oppose the military coup earlier that year which overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. It later also opposed the post-coup government, but stopped protesting after the 2007 general elections when Thaksin’s proxy People’s Power Party won.
In 2009, after a Democrat-led government headed by Abhisit was formed, the red shirts held anti-government rallies in April, alleging that the coalition was formed undemocratically as one faction included defectors from Thaksin’s party.
Some red-shirt leaders claimed protesters were killed during clashes with security forces, but authorities dismissed the allegation. Jatuporn called Abhisit a “tyrant whose hands were stained with blood”, an accusation that led to the Democrat leader launching a defamation case against him and eventually the high court verdict last week.
The red shirts took to the streets once again in March 2010 – just over a week after the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders ordered that Bt46 billion in Thaksin’s assets be seized, on the grounds that he had made financial gain from abusing his power while in office.
For more than two months the street protests continued and, this time, deaths of protesters actually occurred. More than 90 people were killed and some 2,000 others were injured during the political unrest. In addition to many protesters, military and police officers, foreign journalists and local residents were among the fatalities.
During the two-year duration of the Abhisit government’s tenure, the red-shirt movement was at its peak, becoming a highly powerful political group and leading a controversial campaign to “overthrow the elite”.
At the Asean Summit in 2009, which Thailand hosted in Pattaya, UDD leaders led a large group of red-shirt protesters who stormed the meeting venue. The incident forced an embarrassed government to cancel the meeting involving leaders from all 10 Asean member countries and “dialogue partner” states.
Thirteen protesters, including nine red-shirt leaders, were each sentenced to four years in jail in connection with the incident. The Appeal Court in March rejected their requests for bail, resulting in them being sent to jail. However, they have appealed the imprisonment verdict in the Supreme Court.
When UDD secretary-general Nattawut Saikua visited Jatuporn at the Bangkok Remand Prison, he said that people involved in any fight would inevitably suffer from pain and wounds.
The red shirts movement would continue to be active, although its top leader “has lost his freedom today”, Nattawut said.
“The red shirts have suffered repeatedly. Today there has been more suffering for us. But the pains will power us to stay strong,” he added.
After being granted bail early this year, Jatuporn told the media that his life in detention was like getting ordained as a monk, with strict daily routines and schedules.
“Prison is a graveyard for living people. You need to make your everyday life happy,” he said.
And when he visited the red-shirt leaders jailed at a Chon Buri prison for the Asean Summit incident, Jatuporn said the UDD figures were well aware of their destiny after a decade of political fight.
“We have only two choices – death or jail,” he said.
Judging from their recent remarks after they and their colleagues were sent behind bars, it appears some key red-shirt leaders have conceded to their fate.