The trial of former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra [BBC profile] began in the Supreme Court of Thailand on Friday, as she appeared in court to face corruption charges involving mismanagement of a rice-subsidy program. The charges against Shinawatra include [AP report] dereliction of duty and failure to stop the corruption in connection with the rice-subsidy program, which is estimated to have cost the government billions of dollars. Shinawatra pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the charges in May. The rice-subsidy program was seen as playing a major role in the election victory of Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party in 2011. Shinawatra’s campaign stated at the time that the program was aimed at helping poor farmers who were paid about 50 percent above the international market rate for rice, but the program suffered severe losses. Prosecutors say that Shinawatra ignored multiple warnings from several government agencies about the potential for corruption. Her prosecution is widely viewed as a political effort by the ruling junta to undermine the influence of Shinawatra’s family, and Shinawatra’s supporters believe the courts are playing a key role in this effort. Shinawatra faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
Thailand’s political system has been unstable since the 2006 military coup [BBC report] by the Royal Thai Army against then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile], brother of Yingluck Shinawatra. Yingluck Shinawatra herself was removed from office in May 2014 shortly before the military seized control [JURIST reports] of the government. After the military overthrow, the junta has been accused of violating human rights in its attempts to maintain order. Martial law was instituted on May 20, 2014, two days before the coup that ousted the former Thai government and installed General Prayuth Chan-ocha [BBC profile] as the country’s new prime minister. Since then, political demonstrations have been banned, and hundreds have been arrested for protesting the junta. A group of Thai human rights activists denounced the country’s state of martial law in February, accusing the ruling military junta of imposing a judicial “twilight zone” [JURIST report]. The current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced in April that the country’s military government would lift the martial law [JURIST report] and replace it with a new security order. Also in April, Thailand completed an initial draft [JURIST report] of a new constitution, which, if ratified, would be the country’s twentieth since 1932.