Thai court acquits dozens who shut down Bangkok airports in 2008

‘Yellow Shirt’ antigovernment protesters protected under the constitution, charges of rebellion and terrorism dropped.

Anti government protesters sits in front of the departure terminal at Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok in the early hours of Wednesday Nov. 26, 2008
Antigovernment protesters sit in front of the departure terminal at Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok, on November 26, 2008 [Sakchai Lalit/AP Photo]

A court in Thailand has dropped terrorism charges against 67 people who led antigovernment protests in 2008, occupying and shutting down operations at Bangkok’s two airports for more than a week.

The Bangkok Criminal Court ruled on Friday that the so-called “Yellow Shirt” protests, which opposed a government headed by allies of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, were protected under the constitution because they were peaceful and the protesters were unarmed, according to local media and one of the defendants.

“Our ordeal is not wasted. The ruling helps heal our feelings, and many of the defendants shed tears,” said Panthep Puapongpan, the former spokesperson for the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) group, which led the protests at Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports, its members donning yellow shirts to show loyalty to the Thai monarchy.

The 67 defendants in Friday’s case had been indicted on charges of rebellion and terrorism carrying a possible death penalty. Demanding the resignation of then-Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, the brother-in-law of billionaire Thaksin, thousands of “Yellow Shirts” took control of the airports, leaving hundreds of thousands of tourists stranded.

They also briefly seized a state television station and occupied Government House for three months in a bid to overturn the administration. Backed by Bangkok’s elites, who loathed Thaksin, PAD halted its action after a ruling by the Constitutional Court dismissed Somchai from office.

Thaksin had himself been overthrown by a 2006 military coup which followed large “Yellow Shirt” protests accusing him of corruption and disrespect of the monarchy. His removal set off years of sometimes violent contention for power between his supporters and his opponents.

The court dropped charges against 31 other PAD protest leaders in January but ordered some of them to pay a fine of 20,000 baht ($550) for violating an emergency decree that was then in place.

In 2011, the Civil Court ordered the leaders of PAD to pay 522 million baht ($14.7m) in damages to the state airport authority. They were declared bankrupt and had their assets seized last year in partial payment of the sum.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies