Ousted Thai PM pushed terror law used against him

Thailand Sept 11

FILE - In this Sunday, May 16, 2010 file photo, one of anti-government protesters, called "Red Shirts," fires a slingshot towards Thai army soldiers

Thailand Sept 11

FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008 file photo, supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy, popularly known as the "Yellow Shirts," celebrate

Thailand Sept 11

FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 file photo, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra runs up a hill during his visit to Natori, northeast

The man responsible for pushing through an anti-terrorism measure in Thailand at the behest of the United States was later charged under the very same law.
Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, under pressure from the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, adopted the Southeast Asian nation's first counterterrorism legislation by executive decree in 2003.
After being ousted in a bloodless military coup in 2006, the former telecommunications billionaire fled overseas to escape a two-year prison sentence for graft, after having been charged with corruption, abuse of power and disrespect to Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
A sharp split between Thaksin's rural "Red Shirt" supporters and his "Yellow Shirt" opponents left Thailand in political turmoil. The Yellow Shirts seized the prime minister's office for months and closed Bangkok's two airports for nearly a week in 2008 to help bring down a Thaksin-friendly government. Monthslong Red Shirt demonstrations last year in Bangkok then culminated in violence that left 91 people dead and more than 1,800 injured.
Leaders of the demonstrators are now facing terrorism charges. Thaksin was charged in abstentia with inciting the demonstrations via videos shown on large screens before a sea of Red Shirt supporters.
Fifty-four people have been charged with terrorism and could face from three years to life in prison, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press through Thailand's Official Information Act of 1997. Thirty-nine suspects are pro-Thaksin and 15 are Yellow Shirts, dedicated to preserving the monarchy's power.
Yet in southern Thailand, where more than 4,700 people have been killed since an Islamist insurgency flared in 2004, no one has been charged with terrorism. This has led human rights activists to declare the law has been used to thwart political dissent, not actual terrorism in the mostly Muslim south.
Karom Poltaklang, the defense lawyer for pro-Thaksin leaders charged with terrorism, says the law is purely political, declaring, "Political demonstrators cannot be terrorists."
Thailand has been a Washington ally in the war on terror, allegedly allowing the CIA to use waterboarding techniques on al-Qaida suspect Abu Zubaydah at a secret prison in its territory in 2002. CIA contractors also waterboarded USS Cole bombing plotter Abd al-Nashiri twice in Thailand, according to former intelligence officials.
Thai security forces and the CIA worked together to catch terror suspect Hambali in August 2003 in the ancient Thai city of Ayutthaya, 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Bangkok. He is now being held in the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hambali, an Indonesian whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, was allegedly operations chief of the Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, accused of carrying out the deadly Bali bombings that killed 202 people in 2002.
Thaksin now resides in Dubai. In a reversal of fortunes, his sister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected Thailand's first female prime minister and took office in August. She has repeatedly said that reconciliation in the politically divided country is a priority for her government, including an amnesty for all demonstrators charged with terrorism. Her ultimate goal is believed to be Thaksin's return to Thailand.
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Associated Press writer Grant Peck contributed to this story.