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Court verdicts put a high price on political protests

Jun 29. 2015
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By JINTANA PANYAARVUDH
jintana@n

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THE LATEST verdict in a high-profile political rally case has some significance for Thai politics. It could set a precedent as well as create huge money troubles for those involved in protest cases.
The case concerns the yellow shirts, or the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters, who occupied Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports in late 2008 to oust the Thaksin camp from government.
Airports of Thailand took the group to court and the lower and Appeals courts ruled that the 13 accused should pay up to Bt600 million in compensation.
The accused were former yellow-shirt key leaders, including Maj-General Chamlong Srimuang, Sondhi Limthongkul, Pibhop Thongchai, Suriyasai Katasila, Somsak Kosaisuk, Chaiwat Sinsuwong, Somkiat Pongpaibul, Naranyu (Saranyu) Wongkrajang and Sirichai Mai-ngam.
The PAD last week took only four days to raise Bt7 million in funds to cover court fees, aiming to use it for an appeal to the Supreme Court. But it turned out that it was too late.
They discovered the final verdict had already been handed down by the Court of Appeals and therefore the group could not appeal to the Supreme Court as planned.
Some of its leaders wondered why the 13 accused had not been told about the matter. Instead, a court document, stating the case had already reached its final stage, had been circulated in the social media.
Former PAD spokesperson and one of the accused, Suriyasai, confirmed on his Facebook that the document was real.
Since the case had reached final judgement, the 13 former PAD leaders will have to pay the compensation. If they are unable to, their assets will be seized. And if even that does not cover the penalty, the defendant yellow-shirt leaders will have to be face bankruptcy proceedings.
The compensation demanded is a huge amount of money – and it does not include a criminal penalty on which the court has yet to rule.
Bankruptcy is a complex and long process but once completed, their lives will definitely change. 
For example, they will be banned from making financial transactions on their own. They will need to seek permission to go abroad, they will be banned from politics, and they cannot enter the monkhood. 
The PAD leaders will hold a press conference in a few days on how they plan to battle in the case.
The verdict could also set a precedent in Thai politics, as there are other cases awaiting verdicts related to political rallies.
Other high-profile cases involve red-shirt protesters who staged rallies against the Abhisit government during 2010.
These were four cases similar to the PAD’s. The red-shirts are fighting court cases resulting from the burning of city halls in four Northeast provinces, causing several hundred million baht in damages.
Most cases have already been ruled on by the Court of First Instance and some are before the Court of Appeals. Some defendants are facing jail terms, some have been ordered to pay compensation, and some have been acquitted.
Another political rally group, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), could face similar verdicts.
Formed after the Yingluck government and Pheu Thai had passed the controversial amnesty bill in October 2013, the PDRC campaigned to annul the bill and oust her government.
Led by former Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban, now a monk, almost all government office buildings were occupied by the protesters during their rallies from October 2013 until the May 22 coup last year. 
Their cases are yet to be heard by the court.
The recent verdict could also lead to the re-emergence of an amnesty proposal.
Although the word “amnesty” is taboo in the current political atmosphere, many political observers, academics, politicians, and even drafters of the new charter are in favour of an amnesty, but just for ordinary protesters, not for key leaders or for those who cost innocent people their lives.
Judging from all the cases and the money problems after the court verdict, these are lessons for anyone who wants to stage a political protest in the future.
They may have to think twice.

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