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Supreme Court acquits ex-premier Somchai and three others of charges amid rising tension

The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Offices today (Aug 2) acquitted former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat and three high-profile defendants of charges for ordering the crackdown of yellow-shirted protesters at the parliament nine years ago.

The acquittal of the charges triggered angers by a hundred of people gathering outside the court compound, shouting and displaying placards branding the four defendants as murderers.

Tension rose as some tried to break off police cordon to get into the court compound.

The three other defendants are former deputy prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, former national police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan and former metropolitan police commissioner Pol Lt-Gen Suchart Muenkaew.

The four men were charged by the public prosecutors with misuse of their authority in accordance with Section 157 of the Criminal Code and violation of Anti-Corruption Act B.E. 2542 in connection with the crackdown of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters, resulting to two killed and 471 injured.

In today's hearing of the verdict attended by all four defendants, the panel of nine judges said the four didn't abuse their authorities in ordering the police to enforce the law in order to keep peace and order.

Instead, the anti-government protesters continued to incite disorder outside Parliament House, which showed their protest was not peaceful.

The court said such volatile situation prompted them to order the police to perform duty under Article 176 of the 2007 Constitution.

Besides, the court said that the defendants have no intention to cause injuries or deaths as they didn't know tear gas could cause deaths.

The court then dropped the charges and freed them.

Each of the nine judges have produced separate reasons in written statement in giving the verdict today. The judges took about 80 minutes reading out the verdict.

On October 7, 2008, the PAD rallied in front of the parliament to prevent Mr Somchai and his cabinet ministers to deliver a policy statement. The demonstration turned violent after riot control police used teargas to disperse demonstrators.

The prosecution submitted a list of 66 witnesses whereas the defence submitted a list of 954 witnesses, but the court trimmed the number of witnesses who were allowed to testify to 28 for the prosecution and 106 for the defence.

The first hearing took place on April 8, 2016 and the last on April 28 this year. Mr Somchai gave his closing statement verbally on June 30 while the remaining defendants sent in their written closing statements on July 19.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)