By POLITICAL DESK
THE GOVERNMENT yesterday continued to try to dissuade supporters of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra from gathering in the capital next month for a Supreme Court verdict in the negligence case against her.
Key government figures warned gatherings could be deemed contempt of court and lead to unrest or violence. Security authorities also threatened to enforce a junta ban on political gatherings if Yingluck’s supporters are judged to be mobilising politically.
Large numbers of Yingluck’s supporters are expected to gather in Bangkok on August 25, when the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division on Political Office Holders is scheduled to deliver its verdict in a case stemming from her government’s rice-pledging scheme. She has been accused of criminal negligence for failing to end the project despite irregularities.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday said Yingluck’s supporters could run into legal trouble for contempt of court.
“People acting in contempt of court risk harsh punishment. So don’t stir up things,” Prayut said during his weekly press briefing at Government House.
The penalties for such an offence are one to seven years in prison, a fine of Bt2,000 to Bt14,000, or both.
Prayut said authorities would not obstruct gatherings by Yingluck’s supporters, but arranging vehicles loaded with supporters would be deemed “unacceptable”.
“I want the public to understand that wrongdoers need to be prosecuted. [The gatherings] won’t do any good and they can’t change the rulings,” the prime minister said.
The ruling is expected at about the same time as the junta-formulated “agreement of truth” for reconciliation is released.
Asked yesterday if a ruling against Yingluck would create even deeper political fractures and obstruct reconciliation attempts, Prayut replied: “Reconciliation needs to be justifiable by the legal process. Every case needs to go through the normal process. This government is clear with all cases.”
Meanwhile, Yingluck said yesterday she would continue to fight to prove her innocence. “What I can say is that I’m still strong and ready to fight to prove my innocence,” the ex-premier said on Facebook.
She said moral support from her backers would help bolster her strength and tolerance.
She added that authorities had begun freezing her assets even though the Administrative Court had not ruled on her petition for an injunction.
“The government has chosen to go ahead with it because they think they have the power to do whatever they want, without even waiting on the court’s decision on my injunction request,” Yingluck said.
“This action creates a condition that could influence the Supreme Court decision on the rice case,” she added.
The Department of Legal Execution has moved to freeze 12 of Yingluck’s bank accounts in a civil liability action against her related to the same case. The Finance Ministry, representing the government as the plaintiff, is also pursuing other assets belonging to the ex-premier.
Authorities have issued an executive order for Yingluck to pay Bt35.7 billion in compensation to the state to cover losses stemming from the rice scheme, estimated at Bt500 billion.
In May 2015, one year after leaving office, Yingluck reported to the National Anti-Corruption Commission that she had total assets worth Bt610.8 million, including Bt14.2 million in cash and Bt24.9 million in bank deposits.
Yingluck was yesterday still waiting for an Administrative Court decision on her request for an injunction regarding the freezing of her assets.
The Finance Ministry has continued work to locate Yingluck’s assets in the absence of an injunction, the ministry’s permanent secretary Somchai Sujjapongse said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda yesterday said he had assigned provincial governors to make sure peace and order in the areas under their jurisdiction was assured in the run-up to the Supreme Court verdict.
He added that there had not been any issues of concern so far and authorities had not targeted any local figures in particular.
But some sources said military authorities had been closely monitoring key red-shirt supporters of Yingluck and her Pheu Thai Party.
Anupong also said Yingluck’s supporters should not gather in numbers in Bangkok on the day of the verdict. “I understand what some people think, but we have to put our country first. I hope things will be in order,” he said.
Hundreds of Yingluck’s supporters gathered at the Supreme Court last Friday during the final hearing in the case ahead of the verdict.
Meanwhile, a National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) spokesperson said yesterday that the government would follow guidelines laid out by Prayut, in his capacity as the NCPO head, regarding the matter. “We will mainly adhere to the law to ensure peace and order. We will protect the rights of people who may be affected” by a gathering of Yingluck’s supporters, NCPO spokesman Colonel Winthai Suwaree said.
Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart, deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), had warned that mobilising people for public gatherings was a violation of the Public Demonstration Act and the NCPO ban on political gatherings of more than four people, Isoc spokesman Colonel Pirawat Sangthong said yesterday.
However, an NCPO source said yesterday a strictly neutral interpretation of gatherings by Yingluck’s supporters could not be viewed as political. “But it could be meant to pressure the court.”
National Security Council secretary-general Thawip Netniyom yesterday said the agency had not taken any special measures ahead of the court ruling because it did not expect any severe incident or unrest.
Pheu Thai politicians yesterday also maintained that there would be not be a coordinated mobilisation of people to support Yingluck.
“Her admirers know that Yingluck is sorrowful that there will be a court verdict on August 25. So they want to give her moral support on their own,” Pheu Thai’s former MP Amnuay Klangpha said.