Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 October 2015
The day 10 May 2010 may come to stand out as one of the most significant dates in Thailand's legal history. It was the day that the National United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) issued its defiant demand: no amnesties. An amnesty would forgive the perpetrators of the violence of a month earlier, 10 April, when twenty-one UDD protestors — largely unarmed, according to their leaders — were killed in a government crackdown on their protest. On that latter date, then, the UDD made a clear choice: to risk going down on terrorism charges in exchange for the possibility that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban would go down for murder.
Historically speaking, such a call for government accountability is quite rare in Thailand. But it does echo a long-lost past challenge issued by a young member of a Thai parliament that had been abolished by a military dictatorship, a spirit who for the sake of justice and truth called a coup by its real name: rebellion, an illegal overthrow of a popularly constituted government. That man was Uthai Phimjaichon. He was, with two of his colleagues, sentenced in 1972 to ten years in prison for the insolence of speaking the truth.1 His actions forced those in power to justify their actions. Uthai thus opened the logic of dictatorship for public scrutiny. It was only after fifteen months that the full import of his heroic deed became clear, as the diminishing legitimacy of the dictators, the exposure of their machinations, finally led to their great tumble from power in the face of the popular uprising of October 1973.
10 May marked the turning point of what might have started as a struggle for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and a call for new elections that was transformed instead into a call for justice and equality under the law.
10 May was the one-month mark, at which finding legal recourse to the perceived brutality of the government became the rallying call. 10 April had redirected the protest's main aim from a call for new elections to a demand for government accountability. UDD protestors up-country distributed CDs portraying the bloodshed of that night, and huge posters of gruesome scenes of the dead hung silently over the continuing protest in Bangkok.