According to news from Thailand this week [of December 18], police are set to lay charges against protestors responsible for blockading parliament after the leader of the main opposition party finally succeeded in becoming prime minister without having to win an election.
News reports said that police were compiling video footage and other evidence of demonstrators that threw rocks at vehicles, assaulted passerby, damaged public property and kept parliamentarians trapped within the legislature.
These are serious offences and if the police have the evidence they need, they should certainly try to prosecute. But the crimes of this group pale by comparison to the scale of criminality demonstrated by their opponents, those who occupied Government House for three months from August, and the two main airports for a week from the end of November.
In fact, the number of serious crimes committed under the banner of the group calling itself the People’s Alliance for Democracy is so large that it’s hard to imagine police officers even having time to investigate the melee outside parliament on Monday.
From all accounts, parts of the prime minister’s offices had over the three months that they were besieged been completely ransacked. The occupiers stole computers, televisions and the personal items of public servants. They raided arsenals and made off with pistols and, possibly, semi-automatic weapons.
They vandalized furniture and the buildings themselves, smashing and ripping chairs and wallpaper. They drove off a number of cars and motorcycles, and took religious statues and amulets.
The costs to the government will run into millions of dollars. To replace damaged and missing computer equipment alone is expected to be over a million, although bureaucrats could perhaps save some money by repurchasing the stolen items as they appear in secondhand markets around Bangkok during the coming days and weeks.
The damage was not only financial. According to several reports, a number of high-security computer hard disks, including servers, were among those items that have disappeared. So far there have been no public reports on the precise contents of these, or the threats posed to the government and public by their falling into private hands.
That’s what was taken. Then there’s what was left behind. The list allegedly includes hundreds of homemade explosives of various types, including Molotov cocktails, firecrackers, and fertilizer and ping pong bombs. There were also bottles of acid, and large numbers of assorted objects to use as weapons, including golf clubs, iron bars, and slingshots with various types of pellets.
Oh, yes, and there was a dead body at Don Muang airport, stuffed into a plastic bag out back. According to news reports, the unidentified man had apparently been dead for some days and had been assaulted before he died. He may have been one of the proxy police force that patrolled the perimeters of occupied buildings and interrogated, detained and assaulted other citizens.
Others left for dead survived. Among them, a 26-year-old man was reported to have been found near the international airport on the night of December 1, stripped naked and shot in the neck. At time of the report, he had been unable to speak about what had happened.
Although it may take the police some time to sift through the mountains of evidence in order to bring charges against people accused of these offences, the ringleaders and some of the most visible perpetrators could be legally brought in any time.
There has been some talk about the possibility of charging them with terrorism, which under the penal code consists of acts of violence causing danger to life or liberty, serious damage to transport and communications, or acts effecting significant economic damage with intent to threaten the government.
By these criteria, the people who took over state premises and killed—or attempted to kill—and illegally detained other citizens have, on the surface of it, committed terrorist acts.
But there are innumerable other sections in the code under which they could be charged.
Why not begin with the usual bundle of offences that is thrown at protestors? That includes trespass, coercion, upsetting the peace, confinement and damaging public property. Police usually routinely start with these, whether they have any evidence or not.
Then there are all of the other ordinary criminal offences, including murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, bodily harm, theft, mischief, and destroying or stealing official documents or materials, which carries a three-year jail term; or criminal conspiracy, which carries five.
After that, there’s still the chapter of offences against internal security. These include attempts to change the law or government through violence, the raising of civil unrest to upset public tranquility, or the inciting of the people to violate the law, all of which carry a seven-year sentence. The PAD leadership seems to have met every one of those criteria too.
And there are many other assorted crimes that remain besides. For instance, refusing police access to sites where bomb blasts occurred they seem to have violated section 138, on obstructing officials from performing their duties. That section has a penalty of two years. If threatening officials with violence at the same time, four years; if doing the same with arms or in a group of three or more, five years. And so it goes on.
There is no shortage of crimes, perpetrators, evidence and penalties with which to bring the PAD to book. What is lacking is only the legal and political will to do it.
The gang outside parliament this week threatened the building and its occupants. The gang that took over government house and the airports has threatened what that building and its occupants represent. As a matter of urgency, the police must prosecute both. But their unmistakable priority must be the latter. Prosecute the PAD.
Source: Prosecuting Thailand’s PAD
See also: Police must prosecute Government House occupiers (AHRC)