With the battle lines between royalists and pro-Thaksin Shinawatra forces ever more clearly (re)drawn, a new phase in the struggle begins with the local and Reuters reports that former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his then deputy Suthep Thaugsuban are charged with “giving orders to use live ammunition that led to civilian deaths during a military crackdown on an anti-government protest in May 2010.”
The good old days at the Army Club
Department of Special Investigation (DSI) boss Tharit Pengdit announced the decision and said it was “influenced by a court ruling on September 17 in the inquest into the death of taxi driver Phan Kamthong during the protests. The inquest found that troops, acting on orders from state officials, killed Phan.” According to the Bangkok Post, the “decision to charge Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep was made jointly by a tripartite team of investigators from the DSI, police and prosecution…”.
Reuters says that the two were “charged under article 288 of the criminal code. If found guilty, they could face the death penalty or up to life in prison. Neither was present when the charges were read out.” Abhisit and Suthep will be summoned for questioning and to hear the charges against them on December 12. The Post adds that the letter states that:
the two would be formally notified and questioned and would be released without conditions afterwards…. This practice was in line with the Criminal Procedures Code and the Special Cases Investigation Act, because the two men were former holders of high-level political positions.
The Post has a slightly different account, noting:
The use of weapons by soldiers followed written orders from the CRES, of which Mr Suthep was director and acting under the orders of Mr Abhisit, who stayed at the CRES headquarters all the time during the military crackdown on the protesters.
Mr Tarit said this was an important case because the death was caused by state authorities, necessitating investigation under Article 150 of the Criminal Procedures Code.
Democrat party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut complained of the political bias of the DSI and declared: “we will fight back.”
Suthep Thaugsuban (Bangkok Post photo)
Tharit explained that these charges “would be the first legal charges over the more than 90 deaths that occurred during the 2010 mass rallies.” However, there is a sting in the tail of the Bangkok Post report, noting that in the case involving the death of the taxi driver Phan,
… the court did not specify who among the soldiers fired the fatal shots. Moreover, Article 70 of the Criminal Code states that those who act on the order of their commanders are protected and immune from punishment…. Therefore, no charges would be brought against the soldiers, the DSI chief said.
This might seem like a deal with the military. However, are military leaders who were involved in the decision-making bodies under the Abhisit regime also getting a “get out of jail free card”?
Update: From The Telegraph:
“This is just the beginning of a long process and there’s no guarantee that the courts will rule against Mr Abhisit,” Pitch Pongsawat, Professor of Political Science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, told The Daily Telegraph.
Instead, it may be an attempt to pressure the Democrat Party into agreeing to the ruling Pheu Thai party’s plans to amend the constitution. “My gut feeling is that this is all about political negotiations behind the scenes,” said Professor Pitch.
PPT isn’t entirely convinced it is about negotiations. We are inclined to think of it as part of the war.