One Year Gone: Closure Slow to Come in Khon Kaen’s Courts

KHON KAEN – Most days Prasatiphon Sumaha comes alone. She drives in from Mahasarakham to see her brother, to tell him about their niece and how things are at home. He complains about his asthma (it has been getting worse in recent days) and asks about his case.

But today is a bit different. Inspired by the local Red Radio station to show their support, 40 some odd Red Shirts are milling about, chatting with reporters, and watching battleship-gray school buses maneuver through the chainlink and steel at the prison’s entrance.

Ms. Prasatiphon’s brother, 51 year old Jiratrakul Sumaha, is just one of 19 UDD-members awaiting trial or serving time in Khon Kaen Central Prison for the violence that erupted throughout the city last May 19. Thirteen people were wounded, seven buildings were burned or seriously damaged, and one man was killed, shot at close range with a shotgun.

For the last eleven months, Ms. Prasatiphon hasn’t had much good news to report. On July 1, her brother was arrested and charged with terrorism, arson, and conspiracy for the destruction of Khon Kaen’s provincial hall. He has been held without bail ever since. After months of denied appeals and disappointments, Ms. Prasatiphon remains emphatically pessimistic. “ We don’t want to hope because we don’t want to be let down again,” she told reporters.

May 9 of this year, however, offered the most hope the family has seen in close to a year. Much to the surprise of Ms. Prasatiphon, the prosecution chose to drop the terrorism charges against Mr. Jiratrakul and his two co-defendants, opening up the possibility for all three men to make bail. Their next court appearance is set for July 25.

Suwijak Mongkolsaowin, the head prosecutor in the case, declined to comment for this article.

Bureaucratic delays and judicial feet-dragging are par for the course in a country that appears to be as certain about the path to national reconciliation as it is capable of assembling an open-and-shut case from the 2010 unrest.

The convictions in the May 19 vandalism of three Bangkok Bank branches in Khon Kaen city, however, are about as close as the province has come to swift justice in the last year. Security-camera feeds provided prosecutors with enough damning evidence to strike plea bargains with eight different UDD demonstrators on April 1. Now, all eight men are serving between six and eighteen months in prison and they owe anywhere from 1.8 to 8.3 million baht in mandatory recompense for their crimes.

Udom Khammul, the sole defendant in the May 19 torching of the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand’s Khon Kaen affiliate, has encountered many of the same delays as Mr. Jiratrakul. Terrorism charges were also dropped against Mr. Udom on May 9 and he, too, is awaiting a July 25 court date in order to have his bail request reconsidered.

Then there are the multiple unresolved cases surrounding the attempted invasion by Red Shirt demonstrators onto MP Prajak Klaewklaharn’s property on the evening of May 19. Mr. Prajak is a member of the Bhumjaithai party and currently in the thirteenth position on its party list for the July 3 election.

According to the Human Rights Watch report, demonstrators had started to force open the property’s front gate when Sanya Hakhamdaeng, a personal aide to Mr. Prajak, opened fire with a shotgun. Thirteen demonstrators were wounded and Khon Kaen native Songsak Srinongbua, 33, was killed. Subsequently, ten Red Shirts were arrested and charged with trespassing, arson, destruction of private property, and violation of the Emergency Decree and Mr. Sanya was charged with murder.

Though Mr. Sanya’s case is currently in appeals, a Khon Kaen lawyer familiar with the case reports that Mr. Sanya was sentenced to 6 years and 4 months in prison and ordered to pay a 500,000 baht fine. The fate of the ten Red Shirts arrested in the case has not yet been decided. Although earlier this year the trespassing, arson and destruction of private property charges were dropped for lack of evidence, all of the ten accused were convicted for illegal assembly under the Emergency Decree and are awaiting sentencing.

The results of all of these cases are cast into further doubt by Yingluck Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai party’s continued pussyfooting around last month’s amnesty proposal for those, “who committed offenses after the Sept 19, 2006 coup d’état.”

Amnesty is more than just a newspaper headline to Ms. Prasatiphon. “If Pheu Thai is elected, they will look into [Jiratrakul’s case] more,” she said as she waited to see her brother. “But what we really want is proper justice because we believe in his innocence.”

If it is justice that Ms. Prasatiphon wants, then as it stands now, Pheu Thai’s proposal for amnesty alone will not do the trick.

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