Thai court ousts three ministers found guilty of sedition

Published February 25, 2021
This file photo shows Thai Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan. — AP
This file photo shows Thai Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan. — AP

BANGKOK: Three cabinet ministers in Thailand were forced to leave their posts on Wednesday after a court found them guilty of sedition for taking part in sometimes-violent protests in 2013-2014 against the government then in power.

The Criminal Court in Bangkok found Digital Economy Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam guilty along with about two dozen other defendants in a case that was launched in 2018.

Nataphol was among 10 cabinet member who survived a no-confidence vote on Saturday over their performance in the current government. The verdicts can be appealed to a higher court but under the law the cabinet ministers must relinquish their jobs immediately.

Another prominent person convicted was Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister who helped found the Peoples Democratic Reform Committee, which led the demonstrations against the elected government of then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Instability caused by the street protests led to the Thai army staging a coup in 2014 and keeping power until 2019.

Suthep and the cabinet ministers each received prison sentences ranging from five to about seven years. Another prominent defendant, Suwit Thongprasert, who was a Buddhist monk known as Buddha Issara during the protests, was sentenced to 4 years and 8 months in prison. All were remanded into custody pending appeals procedures.

We are prepared. Whatever happens, will happen, Suthep said outside the court. “But I have to assure you that the protest leaders and those who share our same belief, that we are fighting for our country and our land. We firmly believe in responsibility in our actions and not violating the law.

The protests marked the tail end of almost a decade of intense political contention in Thailand that began in 2006 after then-prime minister Thaksin Shinaw­atra was ousted by a coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin is Yingluck’s brother, and they are both currently in exile.

Thaksin’s ouster set off years of sometimes violent conflict between his supporters and opponents, both of which engaged in aggressive street protests against governments led by the others faction. The Peoples Democ­ratic Reform Committee was in the anti-Thaksin camp, which in an earlier incarnation as the Peoples Alliance for Democracy occupied the prime ministers offices and Bangkok’s international airport for about a week in 2008.

Thaksin’s supporters were known as the Red Shirts, and in 2010 wreaked havoc by occupying part of central Bangkok. Their protest was suppressed by the army in several weeks of violence that took almost 100 lives.

The court in Bangkok on Wednesday dismissed charges of insurrection and terrorism against the defendants, on the ground that they had not used force to hurt anyone.

However, Suthep and 26 other defendants were found guilty on several other lesser charges carrying prison terms as short as four months. The court suspended for two years the sentences of 12 people because they considered them participants rather than leaders of the protests.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2021

Opinion

For whom the clock ticks
Updated 22 Apr 2021

For whom the clock ticks

Tarin will have to succeed in order to cement his position within the cabinet.
Ending the ‘forever war’
Updated 21 Apr 2021

Ending the ‘forever war’

Regardless of who the adversary was at any point, two generations of Afghans have known only war.

Editorial

22 Apr 2021

Capping power debt

THE suggested revision in the Circular Debt Management Plan, which aims to cap the flow or addition of new debt to...
22 Apr 2021

Istanbul postponement

WHILE the postponement of the Istanbul peace talks on Afghanistan, which were scheduled to be held later this week,...
22 Apr 2021

No mining precautions

YET another accident caused by a methane gas explosion has been reported from the dangerous coal mines of...
More mishandling
Updated 21 Apr 2021

More mishandling

By its bad decision-making and weak management, the govt has allowed the TLP to garner more importance and heft than it deserves.
21 Apr 2021

Declining FDI

THE sharp decline in FDI in recent months is worrisome. New State Bank data shows that FDI has plummeted by a hefty...
21 Apr 2021

The digital divide

IN the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Inclusive Internet Index report, measuring internet inclusion in terms...