[JURIST] A Thai court on Saturday sentenced 27 protesters to six months in prison, according to the chief of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) [official website, in Thai] Tarit Pengit. The accused are members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship [party website, in Thai], also known as red shirts [BBC backgrounder] and were arrested [Bangkok Post report] for violating an emergency decree prohibiting political gatherings of more than five people. Under the strict security law [JURIST report] adopted in anticipation of the protests, the red shirts initially faced up to a year in prison, but their confessions allowed the district court to commute their sentences [AFP report].
The conflict in Bangkok [JURIST news archive] over the last two months has left more than 25 dead and nearly 1,000 injured in connection with increasingly violent anti-government protests. Last month, Thailand's pro-government People's Alliance for Democracy Network [party website, in Thai; BBC backgrounder], known as "yellow shirts," called for a declaration of martial law [JURIST report] to quell the anti-government movement spearheaded by the red shirts. Earlier in April, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [official website; BBC profile] announced that he is prepared to negotiate [JURIST report] with red shirt protesters once they cease their illegal conduct. Internal divisions have been mounting steadily in Thailand since the 2006 ouster [JURIST report] of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], whose progressive policies engendered the support of the poor rural class that largely constitutes the reds today. The yellows, primarily consisting of the urban middle-class, considered Shinawatra, as well as the reds, disloyal to the monarchy. Because of the mounting violence, Abhisit has imposed a state of emergency [JURIST report] in Bangkok and neighboring provinces.