Thai opposition proposes amnesty covering 2 decades of political offences

By Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s progressive opposition party on Thursday filed a draft bill seeking amnesty for potentially thousands of people charged with crimes during political rallies, including insulting the monarchy, over nearly two decades of turmoil.

The bill submitted to parliament would cover all political demonstrations since 2006, a period of intermittent turbulence that has seen two coups, the removal by courts of three prime ministers, and crippling, sometimes violent street protests.

The Move Forward Party, which won a May election but failed to form a government, is proposing forming a committee comprised of the house speaker and representatives of government, the opposition and judiciary, to decide who is eligible for amnesty.

“We did not specify offenses because there are so many cases and the timeframe is broad,” party leader Chaithawat Tulathon said, adding the bill stipulates those involved in insurrection, causing harm to lives, or abuse of power in security crackdowns would not be eligible.

Move Forward won the election on an anti-establishment platform that included reforming a law that shields the monarchy from criticism, a plan that outraged royalists, the military and conservatives legislators, who joined forces to keep the party out of government.

It is unclear how much support Move Forward has for the latest amnesty plan. A previous bid by the now-ruling Pheu Thai Party in 2013 backfired, triggering protests and later, a coup.

More than 4,400 people have been charged with offenses relating to political rallies since 2006, according to a Reuters calculation, which includes cases that have since concluded.

Figures from legal aid group, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, show 1,928 people prosecuted over political rallies, with 258 people charged with royal insults in the past three years.

Five hundred people aligned with conservative political groups, including “yellow shirts” involved in a 2009 blockade of two international airports and of the seat of government in 2008, 2013 and 2014, have been charged with offences, said Puangtip Boonsanong, a lawyer involved in many of those cases.

Thida Thavornseth, a leading figure in a rival “red shirt” movement that stormed an Asian leaders’ summit in 2009 and a year later occupied Bangkok’s commercial heart for 10 weeks, told Reuters more than 2,000 of its supporters had been prosecuted.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)