The rumor mill in Thailand is working overdrive again. Protestors are taking to the streets ahead of government plans to pass an amnesty law that would protect hundreds from prosecution and perhaps clear a path for the return of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Talks of unwanted military intervention and the resurrection of the Yellow Shirt brigade in the event of Thaksin’s return have also provided a backdrop for human rights groups pressing the government not to pardon those responsible for much of the political bloodshed between September 2006 and May 2011.
“The ruling party’s amnesty bill lets both soldiers and militants responsible for deaths during the 2010 upheaval off the hook,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “To ensure justice for the victims of violence and to end Thailand’s longstanding culture of impunity, the amnesty bill should exclude perpetrators of abuses and instead make them accountable for their crimes.”
The Thai parliament will begin the first reading on Wednesday of an amnesty bill proposed by Worachai Hema, from the ruling Pheu Thai party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister. Thaksin was ousted by a coup in 2006.
Opposition politicians fear the amnesty will effectively pardon Thaksin – who faces a two-year jail term for corruption – and allow him to return. Families of those killed and maimed in the protests of 2010 are concerned those responsible for the bloody crackdown will be allowed to walk free.
Violent confrontations erupted in Bangkok between March and May 2010 between the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), popularly known as the Red Shirts, and the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. At least 98 people died and more than 2,000 were injured.
Alongside soldiers, casualties included bystanders, unarmed demonstrators, journalists, photographers, and volunteer medics – many shot by military-deployed snipers.
The proposal by Adams said Worachai fails to address the need to hold both military personnel and elements of the UDD, particularly armed Black Shirt militants, accountable for violence and serious abuses.
Protests against the legislation in recent days by what is now known as the People's Army – made up largely of ultra-royalists opposed to the Puea Thai party and Thaksin – have numbered about 4,000. They have vowed that further demonstrations planned for Bangkok this weekend will last several days.
Yingluck has said she wants an end to the rivalry which has tarnished Thailand’s reputation.
"As Prime Minister and a Thai citizen I worry that the rally could lead to violence," Yingluck said during a television broadcast. "Although there is only a one percent chance of success, I want the conflict to end in this generation."
Adams noted that successive Thai governments had promised to hold the military accountable for the 2010 deaths, including assurances from Yingluck that her government would investigate and prosecute security force personnel responsible for those abuses.
To date, however, no one has been held accountable.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.