01/28/2015, 00.00
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Bangkok, Red Shirt leader jailed for "defamation"

Jatuporn Prompanm charged with insulting the then Prime Minister Vejjajiva during two gatherings in October 2009. No reduction of the sentence: two years in prison. The judges are considering bail request put forward by his lawyer. Analysts speak of attack on opposition critical of junta; "a bigger plan" hatched by "Bangkok elite" to silence dissent.

Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A Thai court has sentenced Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the Red Shirts movement close to the former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her family, to two years in prison. The judges have ruled that in 2009 he insulted and defamed the then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva; and "the verdict is two years" and "there is no reduction of the sentence".

Analysts and local political experts speak of a new attack on the opposition following the recent impeachment and trial for the former Thai Premier Yingluck who has been removed from active participation in the political life of the nation. They see it as part of a "bigger plan" designed "by the elite of Bangkok", for "to silence critical voices".

Jatuporn Prompanm, former MP of the Pheu Thai (close to the Shinawatra family) and leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD, the Red Shirts), used defamatory words against Abhisit during two protests in October 2009. The then prime minister sued and today, after more than five years, the conviction was handed down.

In his speech Jatuporn - who until a few days ago participated in TV programs in which he openly criticized the current government and the military junta - accused the then head of government of having ordered the killing of some people involved in protests. He was also opposed to the attempt to submit a request to the king for grace for the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai billionaire in exile to escape a two-year sentence for corruption. According to the Shinawatra clan and its supporters, it is "a political sentence".

The courts are now considering the request for bail made by his lawyer; the decision will be announced in the coming days. In any case the conviction, combined with the decision to expel and indict former Prime Minister Yingluck, risks throwing more fuel on the fire, in a nation already marked by deep political, social and institutional divisions. These fractures remain despite the veil of normalcy imposed by the military junta since it came to power.

Thailand's crisis began in 2005, as major clashes broke out between "red shirted" pro-Shinawatra protesters, drawn especially from the countryside and among the poor, and the "yellow shirted" supporters of the Democrat Party, which represents Thailand's upper and middle classes, as well as the capital's elite, led in parliament by former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

In the spring of 2010, confrontations between protesters and police degenerated, leaving about a hundred people dead. This was followed by a political process and new elections that saw the temporary return to power of the Shinawatra family.

Still things remained deadlocked and last May, the military intervened to stop street protests that had left at least 27 dead, ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, who had won the previous election by a wide margin.

Although nothing is known about the nature of future political reforms, the country remains in the hands of the military with, as prime minister, the head of the Armed Forces who is tasked with reforming the state, a situation that could easily move the country towards further authoritarian rule.

The current prime minister was in fact responsible for the bloody crackdown in 2010. Since then, and this despite the many dead, no member of the armed forces was ever held accountable for it.




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