Anti-Yingluck protest leaders get off with suspended jail terms

File photo from 2014 protests in Bangkok. Photo: Coconuts Bangkok
File photo from 2014 protests in Bangkok. Photo: Coconuts Bangkok

The Criminal Court today handed down light sentences to five former leaders of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), the group that staged massive rallies against ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra’s government in 2013-14, leading to a military coup.

Another ex-leader got six months behind bars, which he can’t escape because he has a criminal record. The seventh walked free, as the court said he was just expressing his honest opinions.

The seven were charged with serious crimes such as insurrection, terrorism, causing public unrest and damaging state property during the protests that lasted from November 2013 to May 2014. Their goal was to oust Yingluck and her “Thaksin regime,” which they accused of corruption and abuse of power.

The court dismissed the insurrection charges, but found them guilty of lesser offenses and sentenced Uthai Yodmanee and Nititorn Lamlua to five years and nine months in prison and a fine of THB200,000 each; Phansuwan Na Kaew and Prakobkit Inthong to four years and nine months and a fine of THB180,000 each; Chitpas Kridakorn to nine months and a fine of THB40,000; and Nasser Yeema to six months. Kittisak Prokkati was acquitted.

The court decided to suspend the jail terms for everyone except Nasser, who had previously served time for another offense. 

After seizing power in 2014, the military junta, led by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, dissolved the Senate, suspended the constitution, banned political gatherings, censored the media, and detained hundreds of critics.

The junta drafted a new constitution, which was approved by a referendum in 2017, but with changes requested by King Vajiralongkorn that increased his powers.

The elections were held in 2019, amid allegations of cheating and vote-buying. The pro-military PPRP, led by Prayuth, won the most votes, but not enough to form a majority. The opposition coalition, led by the Pheu Thai Party and the Future Forward Party, won more seats in the House, but not enough to overcome the junta-appointed Senate. Prayuth was re-elected as prime minister by a joint vote of the House and the Senate, with the support of several smaller parties that defected from the opposition.

The 2023 Thai elections were a historic moment for the country, as they marked the first time that the opposition parties defeated the pro-military and conservative parties that have dominated the political scene since the 2014 coup. The elections also saw a record turnout of voters, who expressed their dissatisfaction with the military-backed establishment and its policies. The Move Forward Party, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, emerged as the biggest winner, followed by Pheu Thai, led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the sister of ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra.

A long and complex political process saw Pita twice failing to secure enough parliamentary votes to become prime minister, before he was disqualified from participating in politics due to having shares of a now defunct media company. Business tycoon Srettha Thavisin of the Pheu Thai Party then secured more than enough of the 374 votes needed to become the Kingdom’s leader in August.

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