Three Thai ministers jailed for pre-coup unrest

25 February, 2021 12:00 AM printer

BANGKOK: Three Thai ministers were sentenced to jail and stripped of their posts Wednesday after a court found them guilty of participating in anti-government demonstrations which were used to justify a 2014 coup that brought Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha to power, reports AFP.

Before joining Prayut’s administration, the trio were part of a group behind massive street protests that shut down Bangkok, paralysed traffic, and seized control of government buildings.

They were led by firebrand leader Suthep Thaugsuban, whose protest movement was marred by violence, generating so                

much unrest that the army said it warranted the 2014 military putsch.

Bangkok’s Criminal Court on Wednesday sentenced 26 people, including Suthep and the three ministers—Digital Economy Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, and Deputy Minister of Transport Thaworn Senniam.

Because of the guilty verdict, they will immediately be stripped of their posts, according to Thailand’s constitutional law.

The ministers’ jail terms range from five to seven years “for sedition”, said a court statement, while Suthep, a former deputy prime minister, faces five years behind bars.

His self-proclaimed People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), a now-defunct political group, came to prominence in 2013 to counter the influence of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Despite being ousted in a 2006 coup, Thaksin had remained a popular figure among Thailand’s electorate—who then voted in his sister Yingluck as premier in 2011.

But corruption allegations had swirled around the Shinawatra clan, who were hated by Bangkok’s political elite, and after months of violent protests staged by the PDRC, Yingluck was eventually toppled in 2014 by the powerful military.

Coup leader Prayut has held on to the reins of power since—after heading a five-year junta regime, he was voted as premier in 2019 elections held under a military-scripted constitution.

His military-aligned administration has in recent months come under fire for its handling of a coronavirus-scarred economy, but Prayut and his cabinet survived a no-confidence vote over the weekend.

A pro-democracy movement has also raised the heat on the former general, calling for his resignation and demanding for reforms to the country’s unassailable monarchy.

The youth-led movement has slowed in recent months, and four of their most prominent leaders were detained for royal defamation charges.

Wednesday’s ruling against Prayut’s ministers is meant to convey a message to the current generation of protesters that the courts are trustworthy, said political analyst Titipol Phakdeewanich.

“It’s to show the protesters that ... people on their (the government’s) side will also get sentenced,” he said.

But the case—which has dragged on for years—will be revisited in the Court of Appeals.

“It’s still a long way,” Titipol said. “This is Thailand.”