Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was indicted for murder yesterday in connection with a deadly military crackdown on mass opposition protests in Bangkok three years ago, prosecutors said.
The move comes as fresh political turmoil rocks the Thai capital, with protesters backed by Abhisit’s opposition party seeking to oust Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and rid the kingdom of the influence of her brother, deposed former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Some observers doubt British-born Abhisit will go to prison given his links to the Thai elite, and see the case as part of the country’s political brinkmanship.
Abhisit, who was charged with the deaths of a 43-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl, denied all the charges in the brief court hearing. About 90 people were killed in the crackdown, and it was not clear why Abhisit faced charges in those two deaths.
He was freed after posting bail of 1.8 million baht (US$56,000), his lawyer Bandit Siripan said after the closed-door hearing.
“The pretrial hearing is expected on March 24 next year,” he said.
Under Abhisit’s government, more than 90 people died and nearly 1,900 were wounded in street clashes in Bangkok in 2010 between mostly unarmed pro-Thaksin “Red Shirt” demonstrators and security forces firing live rounds.
A small group of Red Shirts shouted “murderer” when the Democrat Party leader arrived in court, without speaking to waiting reporters. There were about 10 Abhisit supporters outside the building, some holding bunches of flowers.
Thailand has seen several bouts of political turmoil since Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006, with rival protests sometimes resulting in bloody unrest.
Prosecutors have accused Abhisit and former Thai deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban of issuing orders that resulted in murder and attempted murder by the security forces.
Abhisit, who was formally charged in December last year, insists he is innocent and has described the accusations against him as politically motivated.
Suthep, who did not attend yesterday’s hearing, also faces a murder charge, but had asked the court to postpone his hearing. He is now spearheading the mass opposition protests against Yingluck, for which he faces an arrest warrant for insurrection.
Yingluck has called an early election — set for Feb. 2 — to try to calm the political turmoil. Suthep has rejected the move, demanding the government step aside in favor of an unelected “people’s council.”