A Thai court has postponed the start of the terrorism trial of 24 “Red Shirt” protest leaders by one month.
Thursday’s delay comes in reaction to the illness of one of the defendants in the case, which followed 2010 demonstrations in Bangkok that drew up to 100,000 protesters. “The court will only allow this one postponement,” the judge said, as hundreds of police stood guard outside the court.
Among the accused are five lawmakers. All 24 defendants could face the death penalty for their roles in the rallies, which largely drew the support of Thais loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister.
At least 90 people were killed and nearly 1,900 were wounded in a series of street clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
The clashes culminated in a military crackdown and the arrests of the movement’s leaders.
‘Situation was already very heated’
At the time, the Red Shirts wanted immediate elections, and accused the government at the time of being undemocratic because it took office in 2008 through a parliamentary vote after a court stripped Thaksin’s allies of power.
The judge postponed the first hearing until December 13 because a lawyer for Arisman Pongreungrong, a Red Shirt leader, said his client could not attend the trial due to food poisoning.
Arisman first came to international prominence when he avoided capture by police by climbing out of a third-floor window in a Bangkok hotel in April 2010, an escape that was captured by the media.
After nearly 20 years on the run, Arisman turned himself in last year. The leaders pleaded not guilty in August 2010 to terrorism charges.
Hearings can only be held when parliament is not in session as sitting lawmakers have immunity.
The Red Shirt leaders, most of whom surrendered to police after the government sent in armoured vehicles and troops firing live rounds, deny they incited their followers to cause violence.
“I’m certain that the protesters did not need any speeches to provoke them. They saw more and more people injured and dying. The situation was already very heated,” Nattawut Saikuar, a Red Shirt leader and now the deputy commerce minister, told the AFP news agency before the hearing.
After the crackdown, protest leaders asked their supporters to disperse, but authorities accused some demonstrators of setting fire to dozens of buildings, including a shopping mall and the stock exchange.
No government or military officials who oversaw the army operation have been charged over the deaths of protesters, prompting accusations by the Red Shirts of double standards.
Thaksin, adored by many poor Thais for his populist policies while in power, was toppled by royalist generals in a 2006 coup that unleashed years of street protests by the Reds and the rival royalist Yellow Shirts.
Elections in 2011 brought Thaksin’s Red Shirt-backed Puea Thai party to power and swept his sister Yingluck into office.