Legal milestone looms: Prosecutors to decide on airport siege charges
After six years of political conflict, the red shirts and yellow-shirts leaders are now keeping their fingers crossed on whether public prosecutors accept a number of suits filed against both sides.The yellow shirts, or People's Alliance for Democracy, are facing charges in connection with their protests that laid siege to Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi Airports in 2008.
A total of 114 PAD leaders and members face terrorism charges. Prosecutors will finally decide on indictments on February 7 after taking more than a year to go through 24 boxes with 8,000 documents. The decision has been postponed 17 times because the case is so complex, given the PAD rallied a large number of followers for 193 days.
In regard to the case against the PAD for storming into Government House and surrounding Parliament, prosecutors decided to indict all suspects who are PAD leaders, after taking 20 months to assess all the evidence.
On December 20, many PAD suspects accused of storming into Government House deferred going to the court, but after several postponements, prosecutors refused their requests and told police to bring suspects to the court for prosecution.
On December 27, police brought four PAD leaders - Chamlong Srimuang, Sondhi Limthongkul, Pipop Thongchai, Somkiat Pongpaiboon - to the court. They were all released on bail. Two more suspects are yet to be prosecuted.
For the case on laying siege to Parliament, five PAD leaders - Pipop Thongchai, Sondhi Limthongkul, Somkiat Pongpaiboon, Maleerat Kaewka and Prapan Khoonmee - have been prosecuted and released on bail. Some 15 others are yet to be prosecuted.
Public prosecutors will decide on February 7 on whether to indict Sondhi, Chamlong and nine others in a further case, in which they are accused of high treason - for rallying against alleged Thaksin nominee governments headed by Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat.
Apart from criminal cases, the PAD leaders are also fighting a civil suit at the Court of Appeals after the Civil Court on March 25, 2011 ruled that they pay Bt522 million in compensation and 7.5 per cent interest per year to the Airports Authority of Thailand Plc, the plaintiff in the Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports' seizure.
Meanwhile, the Civil Court is expected to soon rule on the case in which Aeronautical Radio of Thailand Ltd has sought Bt103 million in compensation from Chamlong and 15 PAD members over seizure of the airports.
In December 2010, the Criminal Court ruled to sentence PAD guards who called themselves "Sriwichai warriors" and 85 protesters from one year to two years and six months in jail for offences when they stormed into NBT television station on August 25-26 in 2008. Of these, six, who are underage, were sentenced to two-year suspended jail terms.
The red-shirt leaders or the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship hardly pale in comparison, as they also face a numerous charges.
The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) in July 2010 filed suits against Veerakarn Musikapong, Jatuporn Prompan, Natthawut Saikua and 24 others, accusing them of committing terrorism for provoking rallies against the Abhisit government. Prosecutors took 12 days, going through 60 files of documents and on August 11, 2010 indicted 19 red-shirt leaders and 24 others later.
The Criminal Court started the first trial on December 14, just last month. Over 500 witnesses will testify and the court has to hear the case in front of all 24 suspects, most of which are MPs who have immunity. So it has deferred trials till Parliament is not sitting.
Three suspects - Jatuporn, Jeng Dokjik, Korkaew Pikulthong, whose bail was revoked in November last year - were released on bail as Parliament opened a session on December 21. Only ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra has yet to be prosecuted in this case.
Attorney General Chaikasem Nitisiri filed indictments in July 2009 against red-shirt leaders who stormed into the residence of Privy Council Chief General Prem Tinsulanonda in July 2007.
The Criminal Court of Southern Bangkok has also been hearing an arson case related to CentralWorld against two red-shirt guards, after prosecutors filed indictments against them in September 2010.
The DSI said that the agency took over 266 cases involving 665 red shirts. Some 294 of them have been detained for prosecution, while 368 are still at large; 59 have been identified only by their family names and 309 have not been identified by their full names but only seen in pictures. Cases against two suspects - Maj Gen Khattiya Sawaddipol, who was shot dead, and Samai Wongsuwan, who was killed in an explosion, have been spiked.
Some 150 of the 266 cases faced by red shirts relate to terrorism. Others are forcing the government to follow demands (22 cases), assaulting members of the public and officials (73 cases) and offences against state weaponry (21 cases).
Suspects have been arrested in 68 cases, while investigators have wrapped up inquiries in 66 cases, with indictments made in 62 cases, and four cases dropped. Two cases are under investigation, while 19 matters involve suspects who are still at large.
The DSI appointed a new team of investigators to probe matters involving the red shirts. After a court ruling that a taxi driver was shot dead in a military shootout, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban - top officials in charge at that time - were hit with murder charges in connection with the man's death.
The courts must sort through all such matters, many of which are controversial and are likely to be the subject of long legal battles.