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Anti-riot victims win lawsuit

250 plaintiffs injured by police in 2008 anti-Somchai rally to receive between Bt8,900 and Bt5.1 million

The Central Administrative Court yesterday ordered that compensation be paid to the 250 people injured in a violent police crackdown on anti-government protesters in 2008 during the Somchai Wongsawat government's tenure.

The court ordered the Royal Thai Police and the Prime Minister's Office - the two defendants named in the lawsuit filed by the 250 plaintiffs - to pay compensation to them ranging from Bt8,900 to Bt5.1 million.

Among those seriously injured in the incident, artist Chingchai Udomkitcharoen, who lost his right hand, was awarded Bt5.1 million by the court. The court ordered the defendants to pay five other seriously wounded victims from Bt1.9 million to Bt3.7 million.

In its 84-page verdict, a copy of which was obtained by The Nation, the court ruled that the compensation must be paid within 60 days.

In their lawsuits, the 250 plaintiffs had requested a total of Bt62.5 million in compensation. The plaintiffs brought the case to court on October 6, 2009. It remained unclear yesterday whether the defendants would appeal their case to the Supreme Administrative Court. They can appeal within 30 days of the ruling.

The court found that the dispersal measures used by the police on the protesters were not in line with international standards, which prescribe a gradual escalation from light to heavy measures. Rather, the police began firing tear gas at the protesters without warning. It was also found that the police fired tear gas directly at the protesters, not at a location near them.

The defendants argued that the street protest was not peaceful and that it was against the Constitution. However, the plaintiffs argued that they had exercised their constitutional right to public assembly and that the crackdown was unreasonably severe.

Representatives from the National Counter Corruption Commission and the National Human Rights Commission also testified in the court trial.

On October 7, 2008, yellow-shirt protesters blocked entry to the Parliament compound in a bid to prevent Somchai - then the newly appointed prime minister - from declaring his government's policy statement before taking over the administration of the country. Somchai was described by the protesters as a proxy for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the 2006 coup.

Two people were killed in the police crackdown and about 470 others were injured, six of them seriously. Some of the seriously wounded lost limbs, fingers or toes. Eighty-six of the injured required hospitalisation, including 14 police officers.

The severe injuries were blamed on defective tear-gas canisters used by the crowd-control police during the crackdown.

The National Counter Corruption Commission indicted Somchai, then-deputy prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and then-national police chief General Patcharawat Wongsuwan for malfeasance in connection with the incident. However, Somchai managed to escape impeachment after the Senate voted in favour of him.

In early December that year, less than two months after the crackdown, Somchai was forced out of the premiership after the Constitution Court found his People's Power Party guilty of vote-buying and ordered the party dissolved and its executive members, including Somchai, banned from politics for five years.


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