RED-SHIRT leaders remained determined yesterday to take legal action against former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his ex-deputy Suthep Thaugsuban after the Supreme Court acquitted them in a case stemming from the 2010 fatal crackdown on protesters.
The top court dismissed the case on a technicality, upholding verdicts by lower courts, in the case in which Abhisit and Suthep were accused of murder and attempted murder.
The court ruled that the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) did not have jurisdiction to bring the case to court. Cases against political office holders such as Abhisit and Suthep must be filed by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) through the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders, the verdict said.
Abhisit is the Democrat Party leader and Suthep is its former secretary-general. Both of them were present at the court for the verdict reading yesterday.
Lawyer Chokchai Angkaew, who represents families of people killed in the unrest who were acting as co-plaintiffs in the case, yesterday said the plaintiffs would petition the NACC to bring a new case against Abhisit and Suthep.
“We will cite the Supreme Court ruling urging the NACC to act. We will not give up yet. There must be an investigation by the NACC to get the culprits,” he said after learning about the verdict.
Red-shirt supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra took to the streets in Bangkok in early March 2010, weeks after the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders ordered the seizure of Bt46 billion in his assets determined to have been earned dishonestly while he was in power. The street protests against the Abhisit government continued for 10 weeks. More than 90 people were killed in the unrest and riots, including protesters, military personnel and police officers, foreign journalists and passers-by.
In 2014, the DSI brought the case against Abhisit and Suthep to the Criminal Court after public prosecutors indicted them for murder and attempted murder.
In August that year, the court dismissed the case on the grounds that cases against political office holders must be dealt with by the NACC and tried by the special division of the High Court. The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s verdict in February 2016.
In 2015, the NACC resolved not to pursue the case against Abhisit and Suthep on the grounds that they should not be held responsible for deaths and injuries caused by armed security forces who acted in a personal capacity. The NACC also argued that its investigation had found that armed people had mingled among red-shirt protesters, so the rally did not constitute a peaceful protest and the authorities’ use of force was therefore justified.
Abhisit yesterday said he felt grateful to the justice system and expressed regret for the loss of life during the incident while maintaining that he had done his utmost to prevent such a tragedy.
The former prime minister said that after the incident, he supported independent fact-finding efforts and proper remedies for people affected. “Hopefully, Thai society will not have to experience a similar incident again,” he said.
Abhisit was also asked to comment on a petition filed last month by red-shirt leader and Pheu Thai Party politician Nattawut Saikua for the NACC to reconsider the case against him and Suthep. The Democrat leader said the issue would be decided by the NACC but he had not received any notification from the agency.
Suthep said yesterday neither he nor Abhisit had violated the law and that the operation to disperse protesters had been implemented in line with the law.
In response to the red-shirt supporters’ petition for the NACC to reconsider the case, Suthep said he was not surprised as “this group of people often focus on causing us trouble”.
He said he had provided the NACC with evidence and facts to prove his innocence, adding that the information was included in his book titled “The Testimony of Phra Suthep”, which was written while he was an ordained Buddhist monk following the 2014 coup.
NACC president Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit yesterday said agency officials were looking into the case against Abhisit and Suthep to determine whether there was any new evidence that warranted reconsideration of the case.
Meanwhile, Winyat Chatmontree, a lawyer close to families of the victims, emphasised yesterday that the case against Abhisit and Suthep had been dismissed due to a legal technicality. The court had not ruled whether or not the two men were guilty, he added.
Winyat, who is also the secretary of the volunteer human rights lawyer group Free Thai Legal Aid, said there were at least two other channels through which the case could be appealed.
One channel was via the NACC, he said, adding that although the agency had dismissed the petition in 2015, there had not been an investigation. If the victims’ families had any doubts, they could submit evidence and ask the NACC to take action, the lawyer said.
Such a complaint could be made against all officers involved in the deadly operation, including the former prime minister and Suthep, he said. The massacre at Pathum Wanaram Temple, in which government officers have already been proven to have caused deaths, could be a particular issue, he said, citing a 2013 court ruling.
“[The families] could take legal action against those on-duty officers for malfeasance and then extend the results to find out who were the commanders, from bottom to top,” Winyat told The Nation.
Another means would be through the court of justice, the lawyer said.
Red-shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn said he respected the court’s decision yesterday, adding that the NACC should explain itself why it had rejected the case.
Weng said the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) had lodged a petition with the NACC, asking for a review of the case, particularly because it had been proven that government officers were responsible for the deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram.
Besides the court ruling, the UDD may also present to the NACC the recent case against Somchai Wongsawat and other officials, who had been sued for using tear gas against demonstrators, Weng said. Security personnel using bullets against civilians should receive the same treatment and be brought to trial, he said.
Published : August 31, 2017
By : KESINEE TANGKHIEO, KASAMAKORN CHANWANPEN THE NATION