Wed, July 06, 2022

in-focus

Two ex-PMs, police chiefs face final verdict for 2008 fatal yellow-shirt crackdown


THE Supreme Court’s Criminal Division on Political Office Holders is scheduled to deliver its verdict in yet another high-profile case on Wednesday.

The four defendants in the case are top former government figures and high-ranking police officers indicted for malfeasance after being held responsible for the fatal police crackdown on yellow-shirt protesters on October 7, 2008 – an incident that left two demonstrators dead and some 470 others injured.
They are former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, his then deputy Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, former national police chief General Patcharawat Wongsuwan, and former Metropolitan Police commander Lt-General Suchart Muenkaew.
Somchai, who is the brother-in-law of former PM Thaksin Shina-watra, was the country’s 26th prime minister, serving briefly between September and December 2008. 
Throughout his tenure, Somchai never got inside Government House, which had been seized by yellow-shirt protesters. At that time, he also served as leader of the People Power Party, which was viewed as Thaksin’s proxy.
It took more than six years before a case could be filed with the court. The delay was mainly due to differences of opinion between the National Anti-Corruption Commis-sion (NACC) and the Attorney General’s Office.
Just a year after the crackdown on demonstrators who opposed Somchai’s appointment as prime minister, the NACC indicted the senior state officials deemed responsible for alleged malfeasance under the Penal Code and the Anti-Corruption Act.
In 2012, almost three years later, the then-attorney general Julasing Wasantasing decided not to pursue the case due to “certain imperfections” in the NACC’s investigative report. A joint committee set up by the two agencies failed to settle the differences.
After a long wait, in January 2015 the NACC resolved to bring the case to the court by itself, an option that is allowed by law.
The court accepted the case for trial just a month later. The four defendants appeared before court in May that year to deny the charge against them. They were released on bail – Bt9.5 million for Somchai, Bt8 million for Chavalit, and Bt6 million each for Patcharawat and Suchart – on condition that they do not leave the country without court permission.
In its indictment, the NACC held Somchai responsible for the criminal offence in his capacity as the government head. The NACC concluded that he had called a special Cabinet meeting on the night before the police crackdown and assigned Chavalit to oversee an operation to ensure that MPs and senators would be able to get into Parliament to attend Somchai’s declaration of his government’s policies – a process required by law before a new administration officially assumes office.
The Parliament compound by then was surrounded by large groups of protesters affiliated with the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). Police commandos were sent in to disperse them, with teargas being used. Explosions of poor-quality teargas canisters were blamed for a lot of casualties during the crackdown.
In addition to Somchai, the NACC also resolved to indict Chavalit, who was responsible for overseeing the police crackdown, Patcharawat for failing to prevent the loss of lives as head of the police force, and Suchart for being in charge of the operation.

During the court trial, the four defendants asked for public prosecutors to be appointed as their defence lawyers. They argued that they deserved legal assistance from public prosecutors because the case resulted from their work as state officials. However, the nine judges hearing the cases voted 8-1 to reject the request. The judges explained that according to the relevant law, public prosecutors must not represent the defendants in a case in which a state agency is the plaintiff. The judges concluded that public prosecutors are not authorised to act as the defence’s lawyers.
The defendants produced a list of more than 600 witnesses but the court cut down the number to 100. However, the defence eventually had only 19 “really necessary” witnesses to testify, after consulting with the judges involved in the case. That was compared to 66 prosecution witnesses originally suggested by the NACC, which was cut down to 20 by the court. 
The hearing of the witnesses from both parties began in April, 2016, and was just completed in June this year.
In an apparent attempt to undermine the NACC’s case, Somchai asked the court to summon the anti-graft agency’s report in a separate investigation of former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his ex-deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, from the rival Democrat Party. 
In that case, the NACC concluded that Abhisit and Suthep committed no wrongdoing for the fatal military crackdown on red-shirt protesters during their government’s tenure in 2010. The court rejected Somchai’s request, explaining that the two incidents were unrelated and there were no reasons to summon documents regarding the other case.
 

Published : July 30, 2017

By : The Nation