Legal cases against Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s former prime minister are starting to pile up.
Last month the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) charged the opposition leader over alleged illegal party donations for flood relief, and the military officially stripped Abhisit of minor military titles accusing him of draft-dodging years ago which could lead to a ruling barring him from serving as an MP.
By far the most serious charges facing Abhisit are those of murder, attempted murder and physical assault relating to his time as premier during political violence that erupted in Bangkok in April and May 2010 when opposition red shirts fought street battles with the military.
Following at least 23 coups or major rebellions in Thailand over the past century, senior human rights lawyer Sarawut Pratoomraj notes that holding Abhisit to account for some of the 91 deaths and more than 2,000 people injured during the violence in 2010 would be unprecedented.
“This is the first time in Thai history that our PM has been treated like a criminal,” he says.
But do these charges— as well as Abhisit’s threats to sue the DSI officials for charging him— represent the beginnings of justice and reconciliation in Thailand or simply the latest round of political one-upmanship?
The case against Abhisit and then deputy Suthep Thaugsuban is based around Phan Khamkong, a taxi driver, and father of four who was – according to a September court ruling – shot and killed by troops on May 15, 2010.
If Abhisit and Suthep are found guilty they could face the death penalty but a conviction would, in theory, require “clarifying who gave the order to use a weapon,” says Sarawut.
Abhisit has repeatedly argued that his job was to restore order in a city where red-shirt protestors were encamped on major intersections and reportedly threw Molotov cocktails and fired rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). Soldiers were ordered to fire only in self-defense, he has said.
Sarawut argues that the army should also be included in any judicial process but so far that appears to be unlikely, at least at the highest level.