BANGKOK – A Thai court on Thursday dismissed murder charges against former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his former deputy over a bloody 2010 protest crackdown, months after a military coup tipped the balance of power in the politically divided nation.
Relatives of the victims criticised the surprise decision to drop the case as politically motivated. The charges were brought to court under a previous government led by Abhisit's rivals who have since been ousted from office. Scores of demonstrators died under Abhisit's establishment-backed leadership in street clashes between mostly unarmed "Red Shirt" supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and security forces in Bangkok.
A criminal court in the capital, which previously agreed to hear the charges, ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in the case against Abhisit and his then-deputy Suthep Thaugsuban because they were holders of public office at the time and acting under an emergency decree. It said the only court with the authority to consider the allegations was the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.
The ruling comes three months after the military seized power from Abhisit's political opponents in a bloodless coup. Army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who was last week picked as Prime minister of the Southeast Asian nation by a junta-appointed legislature is often described as the architect of the 2010 crackdown.
"It's 100 percent about politics -- soldiers are among those accused," said Phayaw Akkahad, the mother of a nurse who was shot dead in the grounds of a Buddhist temple while treating injured during the crackdown. "My daughter was murdered. A woman like me will not give up," she said.
In August 2013 a court inquest found that soldiers had used "high velocity machine gun" to target victims including Phayaw's daughter. No member of the armed forces has been prosecuted in connection with the deaths. Critics accuse Thailand's courts of being politically influenced, particularly in favour of the Bangkok-based elite.