Thailand court fines 'yellow shirts' $17 million for airport protests

[JURIST] The Civil Court of Thailand on Friday ordered the core leaders of the People's Alliance of Democracy (PAD) [party website; BBC backgrounder], or "yellow shirts," to pay 522 million baht (USD $17 million) in damages to the Airports of Thailand (AOT) [official website] in connection with a massive 2008 sit-in protest [NYT report] that spanned eight days during the holiday travel season from November to December. The court ruled that the yellow shirts illegally interfered [Bangkok Post story] with the operation of the Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi international airports, Thailand's two biggest hubs, by effecting a blockade that left more than 300,000 travelers stranded and cost the Thai economy more than 3 billion baht a day just in lost imports and exports at Suvernbahumi. The yellow shirts, a pro-establishment nationalist movement primarily driven by Thailand's upper-class and military establishments, allies of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [BBC profile], incited thousands to occupy the airports as part of their effort to force the resignation of the Thai government under Somchai Wongsawat, who was appointed prime minister in 2008 when former PM Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile], his brother-in-law, was ousted [NYT report]. The yellow shirts ended their protests in 2008 and released the airports [JURIST reports] after Thailand's Constitutional Court ordered a dissolution of the ruling government and removed Wongsawat, opening the door for Vejjajiva to assume the office.

In December, the Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced 84 members of the yellow shirt movement [JURIST report] to between six and 30 months in prison for their roles in the 2008 invasion of Thailand's top government-owned television station, the National Broadcasting Service of Thailand (NBD) [media website, in Thai]. The takeover, which shut the station down for several hours, was part of their campaign against Wongsawat's government. That September, a Thai court convicted two former yellow shirt television personalities [JURIST report] of defaming Thaksin by accusing him of insulting the monarchy. In August, leaders of the opposition movement, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UFDAD) [BBC backgrounder], or "red shirts," pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to inciting violence and threatening government officials during a week of violence in May. In June, the Thai government indicated it would study the possibility of extending amnesty to red shirt protesters [JURIST report] convicted of minor offenses in order to facilitate reconciliation within the country. The offer of amnesty would not be given to the protesters charged with terrorism but could be extended to the 27 red shirt protesters who were sentenced to six months in prison [JURIST report] for violating the emergency decree prohibiting political gatherings of more than five people. The protests came to an end [JURIST report] in May when red shirt leaders surrendered to police, which led to rioting, arson and the imposition of a curfew to protect citizens of Bangkok and its surrounding areas.

 

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