Thai activists lit candles in Bangkok on Tuesday as they and others commemorated the 10th anniversary of a bloody military crackdown by calling on authorities to prosecute those involved in killing more than 90 people during pro-democracy protests.
People wore masks to guard against the coronavirus while dozens gathered to remember the dead at the Rajaprasong Intersection, the downtown site where many protesters were killed on May 19, 2010. That day marked a climax to violence around the protests, which had rocked the capital for weeks and shut down its downtown.
“In 2010, we looked at the corpses of our fellow fallen protesters at the police forensics office and we thought: Do they deserve death just like that?” Suwanna Tanlek, 48, who took part in the protests a decade ago, told BenarNews as she joined others in commemorating the 10th anniversary.
“We have amassed a grudge from then on,” she said. “Are we whining? No, but we will keep calling for justice.”
Ten years ago, Suwanna helped organize meetings of the so-called Red Shirts and took part in street demonstrations staged by the group, which was aligned with deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck.
On May 19 that year, the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva stepped up his order that thousands of Red Shirts who had camped out in the capital for months, vacate the streets. Scores of people lost their lives as security forces opened fire while clearing the encampments.
The protesters were demanding that the prime minister dissolve parliament. They were led by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), a group of politicians and progressive figures who accused Abhisit of “stealing” democracy from Thailand with the help of the military, by forcing a party aligned with Somchai Wongsawat’s government to vote for Abhisit.
In December 2008, parliament voted for Abhisit to become Thailand’s 27th prime minister.
In 2017, the Thai Supreme Court acquitted Abhisit and his former deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, of murder charges, ruling the pair had performed their duties as government officials and therefore a civilian criminal court would have no jurisdiction over them.
On Tuesday, UDD leader Jatuporn Prompan called on the government to conduct a thorough investigation into the 2010 killings.
“The undeniable truth remains that there were people shot dead. Their families still live with grief and sadness, so the government must investigate,” Jatuporn told reporters as he offered alms to a Buddhist monk.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the banned leader of the dissolved opposition Future Forward Party who now heads the Progressive Movement, said the government was not serious about bringing to justice perpetrators of the deadly violence a decade ago.
“In 2010, I supported the call for parliament’s dissolution and a fresh election because I believed people could determine their directions, but there came city shootouts with injuries and fatalities and no one know who did it. That is a failure of the government,” he told a seminar broadcast via Facebook on Tuesday.
“The government is not sincere to find the facts. Without people gaining power, there will be no justice for the victims of the May 2010 mayhem,” he said.
Last year, his Future Forward Party finished third in Thailand’s first general election since the military seized power in a May 2014 coup against Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the army chief who led the coup, headed a junta that ruled the country until the 2019 elections. Last year’s polls resulted in pro-military parties forming a government and installing Prayuth as PM again.
On Tuesday, Prayuth’s government did not issue any statements about the anniversary.
Meanwhile, human rights groups including Amnesty International and the Asian Democracy Network (ADN) marked the day by calling on the Thai government to get justice for the people who were killed.
“The government must ensure that activists fighting for justice for victims of this massacre are protected from reprisals. The government should take genuine and impartial steps toward ensuring justice for all if it is to gain the trust of its people,” ADN said in a statement issued jointly with the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.
Mother’s quest for justice
Also on Tuesday, Phayaw Akkahad, the mother of a 2010 victim, was barred from entering a Buddhist temple where her daughter and several other people were killed by sniper fire on May 19.
Her daughter, Kamonked, a 25-year-old volunteer with the Thai Red Cross, was helping treat protesters who were hiding out at Wat Pathum Wanaram when she was gunned down.
In the wake of the killings, Phayaw filed a criminal complaint through the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) against Prime Minister Abhisit, other top officials in his government and military commanders for her daughter’s death. Ten years on, Phayaw told BenarNews last week, she was still “fighting for justice” for Kamonked.
In a statement, the DSI said that Phayaw’s case had been referred to a military court.
A spokesman for the defense ministry spokesman had little to say about that case or the 10th anniversary of the deadly crackdown.
“In regard to the Army’s crackdown, I beg to not clarify because it is currently a judicial subject. It is at the court,” spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanich told BenarNews last week.