Thanyarat Doksone for AP:

Thai law enforcement authorities announced Thursday that they will file murder charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy in the first prosecutions of officials for their roles in a deadly 2010 crackdown on anti-government protests.

….

Department of Special Investigation chief Tharit Phengdit said Thursday that investigators found Abhisit possibly culpable in the death of a taxi driver because he allowed troops to use war weapons and live ammunition against protesters.

Abhisit and former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who was in charge of the ad hoc security agency set up to contain the protests, will be summoned to the DSI office on Dec. 12 to be formally charged. Abhisit is currently leader of the opposition as head of the Democrat Party.

The courts must accept the case before it can go to trial.

Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut called the decision “an abuse of government’s power to threaten its opponents.” He noted that it was done while parliament is in recess so the two men’s immunity from arrest is lifted.

A Criminal Court inquest recently found that taxi driver Phan Kamkong was killed by guns used by military personnel during the crackdown.

Chavanond alleged that the inquest was a one-sided trial in which the accused could not defend themselves, and added that no one was pinpointed as the shooter.

He insisted the security body set up to contain the protests issued no order to use force against or kill civilians, only to keep order in dealing with “black shirts,” armed men who served as guards for the demonstrators.

“To use the court’s inquest to conclude that the two men had the intention of murder was groundless and against the law,” Chavanond said.

He said both Abhisit and Suthep “are ready to prove their innocence,” and that “those who brought up false charges will have to take responsibility.”

DSI chief Tharit said factors leading to the planned charges include the continuing use of force over an extended period of time, and the killing of civilians without resorting to other methods of controlling protesters.

Zoe Daniel for ABC:

The intent to charge Mr Abhisit and his former deputy was announced after a meeting of Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI), police and Thai prosecutors.
“The tripartite meeting has decided to charge former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban under article 288,” said DSI chief Tarit Pengdith, referring to the murder provision under Thailand’s criminal code.

Amy Sawitta Lefevre for Reuters:

Some analysts said the charges were a way for the ruling Puea Thai Party to pressure the opposition into accepting a broad amnesty deal that could whitewash guilt on both sides of the conflict and bring Thaksin home from his self-imposed exile in Dubai.

“It’s a political game and a way for Puea Thai to gain the upper hand by forcing their opposition to accept some sort of amnesty deal,” Kan Yuenyong, director of Siam Intelligence Unit, a think tank in Bangkok, told Reuters.

“Suthep and Abhisit can’t avoid a trial because so many lives were lost. They will have to accept some responsibility,” he added. “Thailand has never jailed a politician for ordering a military crackdown on civilians so if Suthep and Abhisit are convicted, that would be a first.

Thomas Fuller for the NYT:

“Even though there was already loss of life, the operations were not stopped and other methods were not implemented,” Mr. Tharit said at a news briefing in Bangkok.

Mr. Tharit said that “at this stage” no charges would be brought against the soldiers who fired at protesters, because they acted under orders from their commanders and are shielded under Thai law.

FT:

“It’s historic, this is a new standard for accountability in Thailand . . . to see legal consequences if a government decides to use lethal force against protesters and when that force is excessive and unnecessary,” said Sunai Phusak of Human Rights Watch.


The charges against the former prime minister are “absolutely unprecedented”, said David Streckfuss, a historian of Thai law. “It’s the first time that past action like this has been challenged legally . . . Some could argue that Thailand will be divided anyway until impunity is addressed – and this at least is the first move towards that, if you think someone ought to be responsible for those deaths in 2010. But whether these charges are the best way to address it remains to be seen.”

The Nation has more on what Tharit said:

He insisted his office has taken legal action on both sides of the 2010 violence as it has filed charges against 295 red supporters. The charges against Abhisit and Suthep are the first on the government’s side, he said.

BP: We saw the signs of this in mid-September and as blogged at the time:

Surely the question of the biased of DSI was settled in 2010. Back in 2010, Tharit was focused on putting the red shirts in jail and when they were released getting their bail revoked – see here and here – with less attention on the role of the military, let alone Abhisit and Suthep. Now, he has changed to going after Abhisit and Suthep and to a lesser extent the military.  Abhisit and Suthep have been questioned and now from the article there is talk of charges, but they have not been jailed.*

Obviously, there are always exceptions and this is not to say that there should never be any prosecutions. A balance needs to be struck. We had the coup and an entire investigative body set up just to investigate Thaksin, or more accurately find a way to put him in jail and take his assets. Should subsequent governments do the same? How much attention should they focus on trying to jail the previous government? It is one thing to do it for political reasons without throwing large numbers in jail. Do we want to go down the Filipino route of trying to throw the previous government in jail every time there is a change in government?

*BP seriously doubts that either Abhisit and Suthep or any of the establishment backers are in danger of spending a night in jail so to that extent we are not at the same situation we were in 2010 and are unlikely to ever get there….

BP: Some comments:

1. It is hard for the Democrats now to argue that the DSI is biased against them given it was the same DSI head who filed charges against 295 red shirts and that these are the first charges that the (then) government side has faced.

2. Having said that it is hard to see this case resulting in a conviction for murder because DSI is arguing that Abhisit and Suthep were culpable for failure to stop the troops using weapons. Conviction on lesser charges – they have actually been charged under multiple sections of the Criminal Code – would seem more likely (if there was going to be a conviction).

3. Then again, if the court accepts the charges against Abhisit and Suthep, the argument of double standards used by the reds becomes much weaker. There are still individual issues such as bail because it will seem hard to justify denying bail to large numbers of red shirts on minor charges, but to then grant Abhisit and Suthep bail when they are facing a murder charge (do you really think they won’t get bail???).

4. Interesting that Tharit mentioned the failure to use other measures before firing upon civilians. BP assumes this a reference to the use of tear gas, water canons, rubber bullets etc…