BANGKOK — A Redshirt leader said Monday he was surprised by a court ruling that found him and two other activists guilty of inciting arson in the aftermath of their street protests in 2010.
Jatuporn Prompan said he will respect the Supreme Court’s verdict, which ordered him and two others to pay over 19 million baht in damages. But Jatuporn maintained that neither he nor the other Redshirt leaders were responsible for the arson, which followed a deadly military crackdown on the protesters on May 19, 2010.
“We didn’t expect the verdict, but we will abide by it,” Jatuporn said in an interview. “We will see if there are any legal means in Thailand for us to appeal, but the most important thing is to respect the verdict.”
Jatuporn said tying Redshirt protesters to the arson is illogical because the demonstrators dispersed long before the blaze started that night.
“We called off the protest at 1.45pm, the soldiers secured the area at 4pm,” the Redshirt leader said. “The plaintiffs said they were alerted about the fire at about 7pm.”
He also questioned how the Redshirts could possibly have set fire to the buildings, as the plaintiffs told the court soldiers secured the area and set up barricades from 4pm.
“One of the plaintiffs said they left insulin behind and tried to return to their homes, but the soldiers wouldn’t let them through,” Jatuporn said. The perpetrators were never identified or arrested.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is related to a civil case filed by four plaintiffs who said unidentified individuals torched their residences and office buildings in Bangkok’s Ratchaprarop neighborhood on the last day of the Redshirt protests in May 2010.
At least 90 people, most of them civilians, died in clashes between Redshirt demonstrators and the security forces in the two months of violence.
The plaintiffs named a total of 11 people in the lawsuit, including both protesters and members of the government at the time, the army, city hall, and even former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who gave public support to the demonstrators.
Jatuporn was identified in the lawsuit alongside Redshirt activists Nattawut Saikua and Arisman Pongruengrong. The trio had alluded to possible retaliation by protesters in the event of a military crackdown, according to court filings.
“Listen to the signal from here. When the broadcasts go dark, it means there is a crackdown, and you can take action immediately,” Jatuporn said on April 3, 2010.
Although the two lower courts acquitted the three, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling and blamed them for “inciting” the arson attacks. The court also ordered the defendants to pay compensation to the tune of 19 million baht plus annual interest of 7.5 percent.
The Democrat Party, whose former leader served as prime minister at the time of the protests, said the verdict proved that Jatuporn and other Redshirt activists were behind the arson attacks that struck Bangkok on May 19, 2010.
“They were engaged in speeches that incited, advocated, or encouraged the demonstrators … to burn down buildings and damage properties,” party spokesman Ramet Ratanachaweng told reporters.
But Jatuporn disputed the allegation, saying the leaders’ speeches have been taken out of context. He pointed out that Thaksin was accused of similar actions in the court filings, yet the former PM was acquitted while only the three Redshirts were found guilty.
He added that any attempt to use the ruling to smear the Redshirt movement would only backfire.
“We can explain every point,” Jatuporn said. “Whoever is considering exploiting this verdict will only ruin themselves.”
The question of who was responsible for torching dozens of buildings in Bangkok in the aftermath of the 2010 protests remains contentious in Thailand’s deeply polarized political conditions.
Government leaders and the military at the time blamed elements connected to the Redshirts for the arson, an allegation vehemently denied by the Redshirt leadership.
Court rulings over the incidents have also been somewhat inconsistent. In April, the Supreme Court ruled arson at the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 2010 was not engineered by the Redshirts, reversing a verdict by the lower court.
Earlier this month, Jatuporn and 23 other Redshirt leaders were also acquitted of terrorism charges for their roles in the protests.
In 2015, a court sentenced 13 people, including Redshirt activists, to prison for burning down a city hall in Ubon Ratchathani province in retaliation of the crackdown in the capital. But four years later, another court acquitted 7 protesters of a similar charge in Mukdahan province, citing insufficient evidence.