Mrs. Payao Akkahad (Mae Luk-Gade), the mother of 25 year old Kamolkade Akkahad (Nurse Gade), a medical volunteer who was killed inside Pathum Wanaram temple and relatives of those killed in April-May 2010 violent government crackdown on Red Shirts protestors, submitted their version of an Amnesty Bill to Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanjana last Tuesday (16th July 2013) at the Government House.
The group of relatives who call themselves, “Families of April-May 2010 Martyrs”, was led by Ms. Payao Akhard and Mr. Pansak Srithep, father of Mr. Samapan Srithep (Nong Cher), the schoolboy who was killed in Ratchaprarop Road on 16 May 2010. The newly drafted bill was dubbed the “People’s Amnesty Bill” or the “Victims’ Families Bill”.
Currently, there are six bills concerning an amnesty for those involved or affected by the political upheavals since the Sept 19, 2006 coup. Pheu Thai Party and UDD supported bill by Samut Prakarn MP Worachai Hema is among one of them.
Relatives of the 2010 military crackdown victims urged Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to consider the draft of their amnesty bill, which calls for immediate amnesty to all protesters involved in any political incident from 19 September 2006 to May 2010, regardless of colours with the exception of the leaders of the Red Shirts protests and those responsible for the deaths of protesters in 2010. This proposal is similar to Mr. Worachai Hema’s bill but there are certain conditions that largely differ.
Mrs. Payao Akkahad said the relatives of the crackdown victims used to support Worachai Hema’s Amnesty Bill, but now they believe that it is insufficient because it does not include some points that they think are necessary. Mr. Punsak Srithep said the People’s Bill had four points not included in the Worachai Hema’s Amnesty Bill.
1. Mr Worachai’s Bill seeks an amnesty for all political prisoners of any colour except the core leaders but, it did not mention the security officials. The People’s Amnesty Bill would bring all those who made the decision, to justice including the security forces that are currently granted immunity, along with the people who ordered the crackdown if their actions were deemed unreasonable.
2. The People’s Bill would allow judicial lawsuits against people or groups that caused deaths and/or caused damage to private property.
3. The People’s Bill does not prevent private entities whose properties were damaged, from launching civil suits against arsonists.
4. The People’s Bill will grant amnesty to all political prisoners, except for military personnel who used excessive force, those who used violent means against the security forces, and those who damaged private property.
Mr. Pansak found other drafts of Amnesty Bills unacceptable as they exempted the military from legal prosecution. He said the ordinary protesters from both Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts deserved amnesty because the political protests are normal actions in a democratic system but the security force that used excessive force through military operations which resulted in deaths and injuries should be held accountable for their actions. Pansak also said that protesters who have damaged private or public properties should also answer to the laws.
Dr. Weng Tojilakarn, co-leader of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), has voiced his concerns over the newly drafted bill on his Facebook account on July 15th 2013. He said, “The relatives of the heroes in 2010 have the right to submit their version of an Amnesty Bill and my feeling toward the fallen is still the same and it will remain this way until I die; you are all true heroes who fought for democracy and justice for this country.” However, Dr. Weng’s concerns were more “directed at the people, most likely academics and human right lawyers, who drafted this bill.”
Dr. Weng argued that Section 4 of the submitted draft of the People’s Bill has generated the most concern for the Red Shirts and their co-leaders because the draft Bill states that:
“Any act and preparation, by the people who were at the rally and those who were not, which involved weapons and intentions to harm others or private property such as arson and theft, should be punished according to the law. This also includes the authorities and the organizers behind any political movement at the time. Any actions by the security forces that did not violate their official order and did not deem to be unjustified would also be covered by this Amnesty Bill as long as it is according to international law.”
The bill drafters indicate that “any act and preparation, by the people who were at the rally and those who were not, which involved weapons and intentions to harm others or private property such as arson and theft, should be punished according to the law.” This simply means that the bill does not include persons who caused damage to private properties.
“This specification is clearly aimed at incarcerated Red Shirts political prisoners. If the drafters of this bill truly wish for all political prisoners to be free why did they include this condition?,” asked Dr. Weng.
“Most Red Shirts protestors were wrongly accused for possession of weapons and some were mistakenly blamed for the damaged of private properties around the Rachaprasong area. These falsified charges were put forth by the former government of Abhisit to discredit the Redshirts. The bill drafters know this and have no intention to grant amnesty for Red Shirts political prisoners,” Dr. Weng added.
“They can foresee that if they use this kind of wording in the bill, Red Shirts political prisoners will remain in jail along with their leaders,” said Dr. Weng.
This People’s Amnesty Bill also specified that any political leader who has the power to direct the movement of the protestors will not be covered by this Amnesty Bill. This means that the Red Shirts co-leaders would still have to face terrorism charges.
According to this Bill, amnesty will only be granted to persons who committed offences related to political conflicts after September 19th 2006 and persons who did not take part in political protests but were convicted on national security charges involving political acts committed from September 19th 2006 – May 9th 2011. State authorities who did not commit unreasonable acts in handling political protests will receive amnesty also.
The key word here is “unreasonable act”. The draft Bill states, “State authorities on the operational level that did not violate their orders and/or did not used excessive force” will be granted amnesty. In this case, “state authorities on the operational level” simply means soldiers.
The entire security forces that took part in the military crackdown operation in 2010 insisted that they never used excessive force and their actions were “reasonable” and “justified” because among Red Shirts protestors there were “men in black shirts” who carried military weapons and were shooting at them.
The presence of the “men in black shirts” within the Red Shirts ranks has never been proven by the military and by former PM Abhisit government but if this bill is passed, all the soldiers (guilty or not guilty of “unreasonable act”) will be set free on this condition.
According to Dr. Weng, the most troublesome condition that was introduced by this bill is that if the actions of the state authorities, who have the command of the security forces during the crackdown, were deemed to be in accord with the law and reasonable, they will not be punished.
Abhisit, Suthep and top brass military personnel at the time all claimed that their order to use live ammunition and the deployment of 60,000 soldiers against the protestors was justified because some of the Red Shirts protestors were armed with military weapons i.e. the men in black shirts. If the bill passed, Abhisit and Suthep and the military top brass will receive amnesty under this condition.
The soldiers and their commanders are covered by the State of Emergency Decree, Section 17 in 2010 which states that their actions, whether justified or not, cannot be punished by the Criminal Court and the Administrative Court. They will also receive amnesty under this condition.
“To summarize, Red Shirts that are currently incarcerated on crimes of arson and possession of military weapons and/or used them for illegal purposes will remain in jail for another 22 or 33 years according to their sentences. Leaders who are currently facing terrorism charges will be prosecuted, but, Abhisit, Suthep, the soldiers and their commanders will receive amnesty according to the conditions of this bill because their actions will be claimed as “reasonable and legal according to the law.” Is this Amnesty Bill intended to help Abhisit and the soldiers who participated in the killing of the people, and simultaneously punish the Redshirts and their leaders? Families of April-May 2010 Martyrs should review their decision to support this bill. They have to ask themselves: Who drafted the bill for them and for what purpose?” said Dr. Weng.
Pheu Thai PM Worachai Hema said the victims’ families amnesty bill would slow down the process to free protesters currently detained or imprisoned, which should be the priority of any amnesty bill. “The draft would create endless troubles,” he said.
Apart from the concerns from the Red Shirts co-leaders, the controversial draft has gained support from an unlikely source, the opposition Democrat Party. Mr. Chawanon Intarakomalyasut, Spokesman of the Democrat Party. On July 17th 2013, the Democrat spokesman said that the bill proposed by Ms. Akhard and Mr. Pansak fits well with his party′s position because the bill would not give immunity to protesters who committed violent and criminal acts. He urged the government to abandon all other versions of amnesty bill being debated and to proceed with the draft suggested by the 2010 victims′ families. But Mr. Chawanon also warned that his party will not support the bill if it includes amnesty for lese majeste prisoners.
On July 19th 2013, On July 19th 2013, Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva also voiced his support for the People’s Amnesty Bill and reinforced his party’s intention by suggesting that those involved in corruption and offences against the monarchy should not be included under the amnesty.
“It would be acceptable to the opposition if the government agrees to withdraw all the other bills and push only the People’s Amnesty Bill for deliberation,” he said.
The Parliament reconvenes on Aug 1st and according to the spokesman of the Pheu Thai Party, the government will most likely deliberate the 2014 Budget Bill first before the Amnesty Bills, but isn’t it already three years too long for the people in jail to wait? The government should get their priorities straight before they figure out how to use their budget next year.