[JURIST] A Thai court issued a four-year prison sentence to 15 members of the political group United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the Red Shirts [official blog], on Thursday, following a conviction for inciting riots in 2009. The Red Shirts are a political group that supports former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile], who was ousted by a military group in 2006 after allegations of corruption and disrespect for the king. In 2009 about 2,000 protesters were demanding that then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] call for new elections because they felt he came into office illegitimately after two prime ministers they supported were ousted from office. During the protest, members of Red Shirts stormed a hotel [Guardian report] in Pattaya that was hosting the a summit of leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) [official website]. Some of the leaders were evacuated by helicopter. Red Shirts believe the country’s traditional establishment, royalists and military fear Thaksin’s popularity and influence [AP report]. Past court rulings have condemned Thaksin’s supporters while leaving his opponents mostly untouched.
Thailand’s political system has been unstable since the 2006 Thai military coup [BBC backgrounder] that ousted Shinawatra. Recently, Thailand’s military-appointed legislature voted to impeach Red Shirt backed former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra [JURIST news archive]. In 2013 Yingluck Shinawatra announced [JURIST report] that there would be no early election in response to recent mass protests by citizens who wanted her removed from office. Also in 2013 protesters in Thailand demanded [JURIST report] assistance in overthrowing the government after Shinawatra survived a no-confidence vote by parliament. In response to the protests, Yingluck Shinawatra invoked a special security law [JURIST report] in districts of Bangkok and nearby areas after protesters stormed and occupied several key ministries. A Bangkok Criminal Court in January sentenced Red Shirt supporter [JURIST report] Jatuporn Prompan to two years in prison for defaming former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Prompan is also currently facing pending charges [JURIST report] for actions sprouting from the 2010 protests by Red Shirt supporters who occupied downtown Bangkok before being dispersed by Abhisit’s government forces authorized to use live ammunition in limited circumstances.