A Thai court indicted nine politicians and activists Wednesday on charges of treason and terrorism for fomenting anti-government protests that turned deadly and shut down parts of the capital Bangkok for months ahead of a military coup in May 2014.
Suthep Thaugsuban, 68, who founded the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), a group that spearheaded the massive street demonstrations against the government of then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and eight other defendants could face the death penalty or life terms in prison if convicted of the charges.
“The attorney general charged nine of us and took us to the criminal court to acknowledge the indictment on treason, terrorism, forming a criminal syndicate, breaking emergency decree, trespassing government premises and opposing general elections. All are serious offenses,” Suthep told reporters outside a Bangkok criminal courthouse.
“[W]e agreed that we all would report to the attorney general when [the AG] would charge us because we, as Thai citizens, respect the nation’s laws and the judicial system. We will fight the case,” said Suthep. He had served as deputy prime minister under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who led Thailand from 2008 to 2011 and now heads the Democrat Party.
A senior official from the attorney-general’s office said 34 other people accused of similar offenses would be indicted at a later date because they failed to respond to a summons to appear in court on Wednesday.
“We indicted nine persons who were present today from the total of 43. There are 34 more that we would consecutively indict. If one of them wants to postpone the appointment, we would consider it,” Deputy Attorney-General Chartpong Jiraphandhu told reporters.
At least 25 people were killed during the tumult of the protests that lasted from late 2013 into May 2014, including anti-government demonstrators, Yingluck supporters, and police officers.
A turbulent time
The protests against Yingluck started as she tried to push a package of bills through the legislature that would have granted her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, immunity from prosecution over alleged corruption, if he returned from self-imposed exile abroad. Thaksin was overthrown in a coup by the military in 2006.
“All children, women and elderly who fought alongside us and died remain in our thoughts. We adhere to the commitment to reform our country, regardless of the price. If we lose the case, we accept the punishment,” Suthep said.
Yingluck refused to respond to protestors’ calls for her to step down, but then the military, led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the current prime minister, removed her from power in a coup on May 22, 2014. The junta justified the coup, saying it was necessary because the situation had grown out of control and keeping Yingluck in office was fueling instability.
Since then, the junta has pledged to return Thailand to a path of democracy, but it has imposed strict controls on freedom of speech and public assembly, has arrested government critics as well as postponed promises of national elections several times over the past four years. According to the latest pronouncement from Prayuth’s government, a general election is expected to take place in November of this year.