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The Anniversary of a Massacre and the Death of a Monarch

  • Tyrell Haberkorn (a1)


As part of this year's anniversary of the October 6, 1976, massacre at Thammasat University, an outdoor exhibit of photographs of the violence and the three preceding years of student and other social movements was displayed upon the very soccer field in the center of campus where students were beaten, shot, lynched, and murdered forty years prior. Several of the photographs were printed on large sheets of acrylic and positioned such that the images of the buildings in the photographs were aligned with the actual buildings, which remain largely unchanged. The most striking of these was a photograph of hundreds of students stripped to the waist who were lying face down on the soccer field prior to being arrested and taken away. At the edge of the image was the top of the university's iconic dome building, which lined up with the existing building. The organizers explained that their intention was “to reflect a perspective on the past through the eyes of people in the present in order to show the cruelty of humans to one another.” The proximity generated by the image was underlined by the fact that the fortieth anniversary of the massacre and coup in 1976 that led to twelve years of dictatorship was taking place under yet another dictatorship, that of a military junta calling itself the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which seized power on May 22, 2014, in the twelfth coup since the end of the absolute monarchy on June 24, 1932. Suchada Chakphisut, founding editor of Sarakadee magazine and Thai Civil Rights and Investigative Journalism, who was a first-year Thammasat student during the massacre, began her autobiographical account of the day, written for the anniversary this year, by writing: “We meet every year when 6 October comes around, and with it an inexplicable sadness always takes hold of my psyche. It has grown even more devastating since the 22 May 2014 coup, in which we must face the news of the arrest and detention of activists and those who oppose dictatorship.” This was not a commemoration after dictatorship such as those of the same era held in Argentina or Chile during recent years of democratization, but memories of dictatorship in situ.

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1 All translations in this article are my own. When citing Thai-language sources, I first specify the Buddhist Era publication date and then include the Common Era date in brackets immediately following. Khana Kammakan Damnoen Kan Chad Ngan 40 Pi 6 Tula [40th Anniversary of 6 October Event Committee], 40 Pi 6 Tula raluk: Nithasakan roi luat lae khrab namtha [Remembering 40 years of 6 October: An exhibition upon dried blood and tears] (Bangkok: Khana Kammakan Damnoen Kan Chad Ngan 40 Pi 6 Tula [40th Anniversary of 6 October Event Committee], Mahawitthayalai Thammasat [Thammasat University], 2559 [2016]), 17.

2 The number of coups is thirteen if one counts the June 24, 1932, transformation from absolute to constitutional monarchy as a coup. There have been at least seven attempted coups during this same period.

3 Suchada Chakphisut “Lum mai dai cham mai long” [Unforgettable, unrememberable], Sun Khomun & Khao Subsuan Phua Sitthi Phonlamuang [Thai Civil Rights and Investigative Journalism], TCIJ, October 6, 2016, (accessed November 2, 2016).

4 See Gómez-Barris, Macarena, Where Memory Dwells: Culture and State Violence in Chile (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Kaiser, Susana, Postmemories of Terror: A New Generation Copes with the Legacy of the “Dirty War” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

5 After fifteen years under the dictatorial regimes of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat (1958–63) and Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, in early October 1973, Thai students and people began to call for a new constitution. Over a period of less than two weeks, the initial call by a small number of people grew into protests of several hundred thousand people in the streets in Bangkok and provinces around the country. The protests climaxed with clashes between the people and state forces on October 14, after which King Bhumipol intervened to ask Thanom and his two deputies to leave the country. During the next three years, elections were held; a democratic constitution was written; and a range of previously marginalized groups, including students, workers, farmers, and many others, organized and demanded their rights and the transformation of Thai society. By late 1974, a backlash to this open politics began in the form of state and para-state attacks on activists. For an overview of the period, see Kasetsiri, Charnvit and Petchlertanan, Thamrongsak, eds., Chak 14 thung 6 Tula [From 14 to 6 October] (Bangkok: Thammasat University Press, 2541 [1998]); Morell, David and Samudavanija, Chai-anan, Political Conflict in Thailand: Reform, Reaction, Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Oelgeschlager, Gunn and Hain, 1981). For an analysis of the farmers’ movement, its revolutionary potential, and the backlash it engendered, see Haberkorn, Tyrell, Revolution Interrupted: Farmers, Students, Law, and Violence in Northern Thailand (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011). For an analysis of one of the para-state groups active during this period, the Village Scouts, see Bowie, Katherine, Rituals of National Loyalty: The State and the Village Scout Movement in Thailand (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). For a timeline of events on October 6, 1976, itself, see Ungpakorn, Puey, “Violence and the Military Coup in Thailand,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 9, no. 3 (1977): 412 . Puey notes that the NARC said that 41 were killed, several hundred injured, and 3,037 arrested, but that “sources at the Chinese Benevolent Foundation, which transported and cremated the dead, it was revealed [sic] that they handled ‘over a hundred corpses’ that day” (8).

6 The importance of loyalty to the monarchy was stressed in the debates about both of the amnesty laws. See Haberkorn, Tyrell, “A Hidden Transcript of Amnesty: The 6 October 1976 Massacre and Coup in Thailand,” Critical Asian Studies 47, no. 1 (2015): 4468 .

7 This idealization is a key part of the phenomenon of what Thongchai Winichakul identifies as hyper-royalism. See Winichakul, Thongchai, Thailand's Hyper-royalism: Its Past Success and Present Predicament, ISEAS Trends in Southeast Asia no. 7 (Singapore: ISEAS, 2016).

8 Between May 22, 2014, and May 31, 2016, a total of 1,546 cases involving 1,811 civilians were initiated in the Bangkok and provincial military courts. The vast majority of these cases (1,331) are related to weapons charges, many of which are possession charges. New cases involving civilians ceased to be placed within the jurisdiction of the military court system effective as of September 12, 2016, according to Head of the NCPO Order no. 55/2559. Adjudication of cases already initiated in the military court system will be completed within it. See Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “Updated Statistics of Civilians Being Tried in Military Courts Since the 2014 Coup,” August 24, 2016, (accessed October 30, 2016); International Commission of Jurists, “Thailand: ICJ Welcomes Order Phasing Out Prosecution of Civilians in Military Courts but Government Must Do Much More,” September 12, 2016, (accessed October 30, 2016).

9 This number was current as of March 2017. The case statistics are drawn from those updated monthly by iLaw: see The punishment for violation of Article 112 is three to fifteen years’ imprisonment per count; for Article 116, it is up to seven years’ imprisonment per count; for NCPO Order no. 7/2557, it is up to one year of imprisonment per count and/or a fine of up to 20,000 baht (570 USD); and for violation of Head of the NCPO Order no. 3/2558, it is up to six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 10,000 baht (285 USD).

10 Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “The Force of the Gun Camouflaged as Law and a Justice System,” August 2, 2016, (accessed November 3, 2016).

11 On the thirty-eighth anniversary of the massacre in 2014, the NCPO forbade students at the Lampang campus of Thammasat University from holding a commemorative event. Prachatai, “Thahan ham naksuksa mo to sun Lampang chad ngan ramluk 6 Tula” [Soldiers forbid students at TU Lampang from holding a 6 October commemoration], October 3, 2014, (accessed November 4, 2016).

12 See 40th Anniversary of 6 October Event Committee, op. cit. note 1, 6–9, for a listing of the events held at Thammasat.

13 Across the three days of the anniversary events, the massacre was placed in an explicitly broad and comparative frame. This took the form of screenings of films about state violence and memory in Cambodia, Indonesia, Burma, and Germany across the three days as well as the premiere of Prachathipatai lang khwamtai [Democracy after death], a film about the suicide of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan, who killed himself rather than live under military rule after the September 19, 2006, coup; and a mini-conference of six papers about impunity in Thailand on October 8, 2016. The papers were published as a special journal edition: Fa Diew Kan 14, no. 2 (May–December 2559 [2016]).

14 Prachatai English, “Culture of Impunity and the Thai Ruling Class: Interview with Puangthong Pawakapan,” October 3, 2016, (accessed November 2, 2016).

15 Matichon,“‘Khon tai mi chu’: Tam ha khomun thi hai pai na ‘6 Tula 19’ Puangthong Pawakapan-Patporn Phoothong” [“The dead have names”: Looking for missing information about “6 October 1976” Puangthong Pawakapan-Patporn Phoothong], October 8, 2016, (accessed November 3, 2016).

16 Ibid .

17 For more information, see 6 October Photo,

18 Until this year, observers thought that two people were hanged during the massacre, including the young man at the center of Neal Ulevich's Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph of a man using a chair to beat a corpse hanging from a tree while a crowd of smiling onlookers cheered. Examining news photographs and footage, there is a new consensus that there were at least four different hangings, and perhaps up to six. Matichon, “Sarup sewana ‘khwam ru lae khwam mai ru wa duay ‘6 Tula 2519’: 40 pi thi yang ha khamtop mai dai” [Summary of seminar on “knowns and unknowns” about “6 October 2519”: 40 years without finding answers], September 30, 2016, (accessed November 1, 2016).

19 Thongchai Winichakul, “Khon yang yuen den doy thathai” [People keep standing in defiance], Prachatai, October 6, 2016, (accessed November 1, 2016).

20 Matichon, “‘The dead have names,’” op. cit. note 15.

21 Roosa, John, “The State of Knowledge about an Open Secret: Indonesia's Mass Disappearances of 1965–66,” Journal of Asian Studies 75, no. 2 (2016): 281–97.

22 Chotiphatphaisal, Netiwit, “Khamnam” [Introduction], in Chula kap 6 Tula: Botkhwam khadsan nai wara khroprop sisip pi hetkan 6 tulakom pho. so. 2519 [Chula and 6 October: Selected essays on the fortieth anniversary of 6 October], ed. Chotiphatphaisal, Netiwit (Bangkok: Demosisto, 2559 [2016]), 56 .

23 Ibid ., 6–7.

24 Alan Wong and Edward Wong, “Joshua Wong, Hong Kong Democracy Leader, Is Detained at Bangkok Airport,” New York Times, October 4, 2016, (accessed November 4, 2016).

25 Pirawat Nawicharoen and Phatrasek Jirabovonvisut, “40 pi 6 Tula: Mua pakka khian bon kaewi” [40 years of 6 October: When the pen is upon the chair], CHU!, November 8, 2016, (accessed November 4, 2016).

26 Matichon, “Kuab mai dai chad! Mo to Lampang ramluk 40 pi 6 Tula 19 tai tuk nithisat phuborihan sang kep tong ma chad khang nok taen” [Nearly unable to hold [the exhibit]! TU Lampang remembers 40 years of 6 October under the faculty of law, administration orders it taken down, must hold it outside instead], October 6, 2016, (accessed January 3, 2017).

27 For an overview, see Kartika Pratiwi, “Indonesia's 1965 Tragedy: Hope Returns After 51 Years,” EngageMedia, September 30, 2016 (accessed November 4, 2016). There are a number of different documentary and digital storytelling initiatives, including Ingat65 (, 1965setiaphari (, Learning1965 (, and Kotahitam Forum (; Ken Setiawan, personal communication with the author, October 30, 2016.

28 Kammen, Douglas and McGregor, Katherine, eds., The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia, 1965–1968 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012).

29 Pohlman, Annie E., “A Year of Truth and the Possibilities for Reconciliation in Indonesia,” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal 10, no. 1 (2016): 6078 .

30 Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N. and Merkel-Hess, Kate, “Popular Views of State Violence in China: The Tiananmen Incident,” in State Violence in East Asia, eds. Ganesan, Narayanan and Kim, Sung Chull (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013), 105–28.

31 Anne Henochowicz, “Five Years of Sensitive Words on June Fourth,” China Digital Times, June 1, 2016, (accessed November 11, 2016).

32 Lim, Louisa, The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). Lim's explanation of the precautions she took writing the book while living in China underscore the sensitive and dangerous nature of researching the violence: “After signing a book deal, I made my editor promise not to contact me again until I got in touch with him. I warned my husband never to talk about the book at home. Then, to do the actual writing, I bought a computer that had never had online access and kept it locked in a safe in my bedroom.” Louisa Lim, “I Wanted to Discover How Chinese People Became Complicit in an Act of Mass Amnesia,” Guardian, July 21, 2015, (accessed November 11, 2016).

33 Lee, Namhee, “From the Streets to the National Assembly: Democratic Transition and Demands for Truth about Kwangju in South Korea,” in State Violence in East Asia, eds. Ganesan, Narayanan and Kim, Sung Chull (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013), 5455 .

34 Ibid ., 66.

35 Winichakul, Thongchai, “Remembering/Silencing the Traumatic Past: The Ambivalent Memories of the October 1976 Massacre in Bangkok,” in Cultural Crisis and Social Memory: Modernity and Identity in Thailand and Laos, eds. Tanabe, Shigeharu and Keyes, Charles (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002), 247 .

36 On April 30, 2011, Somyot was arrested and later charged with violating Article 112 in relation to two articles that were published in Voice of Taksin magazine, a print publication that he worked with as a key member of the editorial team. The two articles, published under the pseudonym Jit Phonlachan, were written by Jakrapop Penkair. On January 23, 2013, the Criminal Court judged Somyot guilty of two counts of violation of Article 112 and noted that even though he was not the author of the two articles in question, his work in editing, printing, distributing, and disseminating the articles was a violation equal to writing them. He was sentenced to eleven years in prison. This decision and sentence was upheld by the Appeal Court on September 19, 2014. On February 23, 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction but reduced the sentence to seven years.

37 Thongchai Winichakul, “People keep standing in defiance,” op. cit. note 19.

38 Sarayut Tangprasert, “Ya hai hetkan 6 Tula pen phiang prawatisat khwamrusuk” [Don't let 6 October be simply an emotional history], Blogazine, October 6, 2016, (accessed November 4, 2016).

39 Although not bound by the same restrictions on dress, by January 2017 most Thais (and many non-Thai residents and visitors) were still opting to wear muted colors.

40 Prachatai, “Lèse Majesté Cases Spike to 20 Since King's Death,” October 28, 2016, (accessed November 4, 2016).

41 An example of the abuse of the law in a personal dispute was the case of Yutthapoom, whose older brother brought an Article 112 case against him following arguments over a shared business and family pets. The Criminal Court dismissed the charges against Yutthapoom on September 13, 2013, but only after he had spent 359 days in pretrial and trial detention. For further details see iLaw, “Yutthapoom: 112 – Brother vs Brother,” n.d., (accessed November 4, 2016).

42 Teeranai Charuvastra, “Chonburi Man Beaten by Mob Over Royal Defamation,” Khao Sod, October 18, 2016, (accessed November 4, 2016).

43 Prachatai, “Thailand to Monitor Social Media 24/7 in Mourning of King's Death,” October 15, 2016, (accessed November 4, 2016).

44 Suchada, “Unforgettable, unrememberable,” op. cit. note 3.

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