Finally, Thailand is holding inquests into at least some of the deaths of the people killed during a crackdown on "Red Shirt" anti-government protests two years ago.
More than 90 people, mostly civilians, were killed and nearly 1,900 wounded during the 2010 pro-democracy rallies, which ended in a bloody military operation under then military-installed premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is now opposition leader.
Under Section 150 of Thailand's Criminal Procedure Code, prosecutors have the power to submit for inquest any deaths believed related to or involving the authorities. Initially the inquest is focused on 16 deaths identified as likely to have been caused by the security forces' operation, Thai prosecutor Varidsanee Manyawut said earlier this week.
The first case to go to inquest will be that of Channarong Polsrila. Channarong was shot dead near a Shell gas station on Soi Rang Nam near Victory Monument in Bangkok at the height of the anti-government protests on May 15, 2010. He was shot in his stomach and right arm by high-velocity weapons according to reports.
The Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road opened the inquest into the death of Channarong in Black Case Number Or Chor 1/2012, The court will hear evidence and decide on the identity of the deceased, the place of death, the cause and its circumstances, and whether the death was caused by an action of a particular person. An initial hearing was held on Monday. It was attended by about 70 red shirt supporters, including the UDD chairwoman Thida Tawornseth, Deputy Transport Minister Chatt Kuldiloke, three army officers, and a representative of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission.
The court agreed to the prosecutor's request to have 41 witnesses examined, and for the deceased's relatives to have 15 witnesses examined. The hearing of witnesses will begin on June 18, when Channarong's wife and two foreign journalists, Bangkok-based Nick Nostitz and Thilo Thielke from Der Spiegel, will testify.
Nick Nostitz wrote about witnessing Channarong’s death…
"I heard a soldier giving orders to come out or be shot dead. At first I thought he meant me, but I saw his head over the wall shouting at the man in the pool (Channarong). I decided that I should make myself known, and shouted that I am a foreign journalist, and to please not shoot me. I shouted several times before the soldier seemed to take notice. I showed my open hands, he ordered me out. I walked towards him, and explained that the man in the water had a gut shot, and a bad shot in the arm. He floated in the pool, his face and stomach barely above the waterline.
The soldier ordered me to pull him out. Another soldier has also jumped over the wall, a third soldier secured from above the wall. While I tried to pull the man out of the water he pleaded, with a weak voice, that he just can’t take it anymore. He was too heavy. I asked one of the soldiers to help me, please. While roughly pulling at the man, he screamed that he should be dead, and because if he isn’t then they have to take him to the hospital, and that he should die. He walked off.
The injured man slipped back into the pool. The second soldier helped me pull him out, while the first kept on screaming. The soldier on the wall ordered me to take care of the man. I said that I have no idea how – he has a bad gut shot, and lifted the man’s shirt to show the small hole in the stomach. I just knelt down. The man asked me to lift his mangled arm and to turn him on his side as he can’t breathe anymore. I did so, while the man grunted with pain.”
Another three inquests were scheduled, for March 19 (Private Narongrit Sala), April 23 (Phan Kamkorn), and May 28 (Kunakorn Srisuwan). Kunakorn was a 14-year-old boy from an orphans' home in the Ramkhamhaeng area.
Last year, in an attempt to protect those responsible, the Department of Special Investigation initially concluded that of the 91 people killed during the crackdown, 13 cases might be the result of authorities’ operations.” When the democratically elected Puea Thai government took power in August, they put the investigation files into police hands and inquest procedures have been accelerated with three more cases from the Wat Pathum Wanaram shootings being included.
It is a start.