Who can be killed with impunity and who cannot be impugned in Thailand

Public guest lecture by Tyrell Haberkorn, Department of Political and Social Change at the School of International, Political, and Strategic Studies, Australian National University.


During the crackdown on red shirt protestors by Thai state security forces in April-May 2010, at least 92 people were killed and over 2000 injured. Following investigations by several state and independent agencies, and marking a sharp departure from the past, in December 2013, the former prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and the former deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, were indicted for their role in orchestrating the crackdown. Yet in late July, the case against them was dismissed with a court decision based on a logic that departed significantly from the letter of the law.

In contrast to the difficulty of holding perpetrators of the April-May 2010 killings to account, those deemed to speak, write, or otherwise act in a manner than insults the institution of the monarchy have been swiftly punished. SMS messages, off-hand comments inside the home, and bathroom graffiti have all been treated as grave crimes against the crown and state. There has been a sharp increase in prosecution of cases of alleged violation of Article 112 since the 19 September 2006 coup, and an even sharper intensification since the 22 May 2014 coup.In many cases, the identification of crimes and the reasoning deployed to justify a ruling of either guilty or innocent also departs significantly from the letter of the law.

This paper takes these departures as neither accidental nor unrelated, but rather foundational and reflective of a logic informing social and political relations in the Thai polity.  Through a comparison of the legal logics surrounding the proceedings related to the April-May 2010 crackdown and several Articles 112 cases, this talk offers a specific set of answers to the question of who can be killed with impunity and who cannot be impugned and considers what this means about law and who can be human in late-reign Rama IX, coup era Thailand.