Gen Prawit warns off PAD resurgence

Gen Prawit warns off PAD resurgence

Suriyasai calls meet after court ruling

Suriyasai Katasila, seen here at a People's Alliance for Democracy yellow shirt rally to oust the Thaksin government in 2006, is organising new action against the Supreme Court's acquittal of ex-premier Somchai Wongsawat. (Creative Commons)
Suriyasai Katasila, seen here at a People's Alliance for Democracy yellow shirt rally to oust the Thaksin government in 2006, is organising new action against the Supreme Court's acquittal of ex-premier Somchai Wongsawat. (Creative Commons)

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon gave a stern warning Thursday to yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demonstrators to strictly comply with the 2016 public gathering law amid speculation the group might try to stir up trouble.

He was responding PAD core member Suriyasai Katasila, who called a meeting of the group Friday in the wake of the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions clearing former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, 70, and three other defendants of any wrongdoing in the crackdown on PAD protesters in 2008.

The group is unhappy with the ruling and is likely to devise a response. It is not known if street protests are likely, given the regime's stance against them.

The three others let off by the court were then deputy prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, 85, then national police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwon, 68, and then metropolitan police commander Suchart Mueankaew, 66.

Gen Prawit, who is also defence minister and oversees national security, said street protests should now be a thing of past and organisers of public gatherings should follow procedures outlined by the law.

Under the law, organisers of a public rally are required to inform authorities in advance to make sure preparations are made to prevent possible disorder or damage.

Gen Prawit also distanced himself from the court case, saying he never intervened even though one of the defendants, Pol Gen Patcharawat, is his brother.

He assured the government's unity building efforts would not be hampered no matter how the court rules in the rice-pledging case against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Reconciliation and criminal offences involving politicians are separate issues and unlikely to affect each other, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has 30 days to appeal against the court ruling as allowed by the constitution.

However, he said it remains unclear how the anti-graft agency will proceed, if it decides to appeal, because the organic law governing appeal procedures has not yet been enforced.

He declined to comment when asked if the court ruling would prohibit any street protests similar to those carried out by the PAD.

It remains to be seen how the group and those affected by the crowd dispersal operations will fight the case because it will be up to the NACC whether to appeal.

While the right to appeal is endorsed by the charter, the organic law on the deliberation of criminal cases involving holders of political positions is not yet in force.

An appeal must be lodged within 30 days of the ruling.

Suwat Apaipak, a lawyer with PAD affiliations, said the group will study the court's ruling to plan its next move as the group is waiting for a ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court regarding compensation payable after the crackdown.

Flashback August 2006 A month before the military coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) founder Sondhi Limthongkul (left) and core member Suriyasai Katasila talked to the media. (File photo by Apichart Jinakul)

Mr Suwat said the group won a lawsuit at the Central Administrative Court which ordered police and the Prime Minister's Office to pay compensation to the injured.

He said because the PAD demonstrators cannot appeal against the Supreme Court's ruling, they will have to wait for a decision by the NACC which serves as the plaintiff in the criminal case.

Concerns have been raised about whether the Supreme Court's acquittal of the four defendants will affect the Supreme Administrative Court ruling.

In October 2012, the Central Administrative Court ordered the Prime Minister's Office and the Royal Thai Police (RTP) to pay 32 million baht in compensation to the yellow-shirt demonstrators injured in the 2008 crackdown.

A panel of judges ruled that compensation for the yellow-shirt protesters was warranted after the Yingluck government's decision to compensate victims of the dispersal of red-shirt protesters in 2010.

The plaintiffs said government officials had failed to issue warnings or comply with international standards for dealing with peaceful protests. The court agreed, ordering the RTP and the PM's Office to compensate the victims within 60 days.

Pol Gen Adul Sangsingkeo, the then police chief, instructed the police force's lawyers to appeal the Central Administrative Court's ruling.

In its Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions acquitted Mr Somchai, his deputy prime minister Chavalit, then national police chief Pol Gen Patcharawat, and then-metropolitan police chief Suchart, of the charges.

The court said the defendants had performed their duties as stated in the constitution and noted the protest did not fit the definition of a peaceful gathering, which is protected under the constitution. The PAD protesters were attempting to block Mr Somchai from delivering his policy statement to parliament, which he was legally required to do within 15 days from taking office.

Somchai Ngamwongchon, spokesman of the Administrative Court, said Thursday the Supreme Administrative Court had completed its deliberation of the lawsuit.

He said it would be normal for the Administrative Court judges to study the Supreme Court's ruling but whether the criminal case will have a bearing on the lawsuit is up to the judges.

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