Two 'men in black' get 10 years, three others freed

Two 'men in black' get 10 years, three others freed

Police escort the five alleged 'men in black' to Criminal Court to request for more time to detain them during an investigation on Sept 13, 2014. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Police escort the five alleged 'men in black' to Criminal Court to request for more time to detain them during an investigation on Sept 13, 2014. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The Criminal Court on Tuesday sentenced two “men in black” to 10 years in jail for having in possession and carrying weapons during the 2010 red-shirt political violence while acquitting three others due to lack of evidence.

Three of the five defendants are Bangkok residents -- Kittisak Soomsri, Chamnan Phakeechai, both 49, and a 43-year-old woman, Punika Chusri. The other two are Preecha Yuyen, 28, from Chiang Mai and Ronnarit Suricha, 37, from Ubon Ratchathani.

According to the prosecution’s indictment in December 2014, the five defendants and other suspects who are still at large or died carried weapons, ammunition and explosive devices such as M79 grenade launchers, M16 and HK33 assault rifles at Khok Wua intersection and on Tanao Road and Prachathipatai Road in Bangkok on April 10, 2010 when security forces clashed with the red-shirt protesters at the intersection. Five soldiers and 21 civilians died, including a Reuters journalist. 

After the gun and grenade attacks by the so-called “men in black”, security forces seized some weapons and found spent shells of M79 grenades and spent cartridges from a 5.56mm submachine gun at the scene. 

The court found Kittisak and Preecha, the first and second defendant, guilty of the charges. The two were handed each eight years in jail for having weapons and explosives for which the registrar cannot issue permits and two years for carrying firearms in public places without permission.      

The court was convinced by testimonies of witnesses and other evidence that Kittisak, the first defendant, played a role in supplying weapons to the protest site held by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) on April 10. 

His elder sister told the court she saw Kittisak, a public van driver, carried a black bag into his room and she saw a rifle’s barrel protruding from the bag’s opening. He then put the bag and a cardboard box into a white van and left for the protest site at Khok Wua intersection. Kittisak often joined the UDD rallies with his younger brother, also a van driver.   

A soldier testifying as a witness said he saw a rifle inside the slowly moving van when Kittisak opened its door near Democracy Monument.  

The van’s owner said Kittisak rented the vehicle for extra hours after his shift.      

Kittisak claimed the box in the van contained auto parts and he was tortured by authorities to confess but the court found his arguments groundless.

As for Preecha, the second defendant, the court was told two plainclothes police officers who mingled in the red-shirt protesters saw a group of black-clad men armed with AK assault rifles and wearing balaclavas walked into the rally area. The red-shirt security guards asked to see their ID cards but the men said they did not bring any with them. The policemen then removed balaclavafrom one of the men in black and seized his gun. They later identified Preecha as him. 

The officers were about to remove balaclava from another man when an explosion went off and all the men in black ran away. Preecha argued the photo of him in black attire and after his balaclava was removed was doctored but the court was not convinced. 

The court, however, acquitted the third, fourth and fifth defendants, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

It said the plaintiff had only statements of the three while being held in soldiers’ custody in which they admitted to being in the rally areas but could not produce substantial evidence to prove they had possessed or used the weapons.  

After the ruling, relatives of Mr Ronnarit, Mr Chamnan and Mrs Punika, which packed the courtroom broke down in tears and hugged one another. 

UDD lawyer Winyat Chartmontri said the defence lawyer team disagreed with the court in hearing the witnesses’ testimonies and would appeal against its rulings for Kittisak and Preecha. 

The four men and a woman were arrested and brought before the media in early September 2014 during a police media briefing. Their bail requests have never been approved since. Then-deputy national police chief Gen Somyot Phumpanmuang said the suspects had admitted they were involved in the attacks the night of April 10, 2010.

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