Yesterday, the Khana Nitirat, the group of seven lecturers at Thammasat University who work to put law in the service of the people, held a public seminar on the nullifcation of the 2007 Constitution. The Sriburapha Auditorium at Thammasat University was overflowing with people listening inside, and exchanging ideas, browsing books and doing political performance art outside. Read reports summarizing the seminar here, here, and here, and view video of the seminar here, here, and here.
Yet rather than write about the important proposal of the Khana Nitirat here, what I want to do instead is to flag the threatening response that their work has generated. In particular, I turn to the comments section of an article about yesterday’s seminar posted on the online version of ผู้จัดการ/Manager newspaper. The article was the ผู้จัดการ/Manager take on the seminar and the Khana Nitirat proposal. The comments are full of unconstructive misreadings of the Khana Nitirat proposal, but more than that, a virulent thread of hatred.These comments do not seem to be in the interest of furthering debate about democracy, rule of law, and monarchy, but rather shutting it down, by making the possible risks for entering it grave and unpredictable.
Perhaps if I read the comments on ผู้จัดการ/Manager articles more frequently, I would be inured to comments which suggest that people be murdered or burned alive. But I do not, and I am not, so I offer a catalogue of the comments posted, circa 12 noon Thailand time on 23 January 2012.
At that time, there were a total of 227 comments. While several comments took the proposal of the Khana Nitirat seriously, many comments chose to forgo engagement and instead engage in harassment and threats against the members of the Khana Nitirat. Of primary concern here, commentators cast the members of the Khana Nitirat as less than human, called for the involvement of the military, called for surveillance, called for their deaths in a vague sense, and called for murderous vigilante violence against them. Many other comments suggested that the members of the Khana Nitirat were not-Thai and should leave the country. In what follows, the number in [ ] refers to the number of the comment which corresponds to the content noted.
Less than human
• Comparison of the members of the Khana Nitirat with dogs 
• Members of the Khana Nitirat are aliens 
• Members of the Khana Nitirat are not human 
Call for involvement of the military:
• What are soldiers doing about this [31, 110]
• Call for a coup 
• Where is the Army’s pride 
Call for surveillance:
• For the names, addresses, phone numbers, and maps of the house location of the members of the Khana Nitirat to be published [41, 86,117]
• Listing of the names of the members of the Khana Nitirat with the admonition to remember it well 
• Request for other commentators to be the eyes and ears, i.e., to be an informal surveillance network 
Call for vigilante and/or state violence, including murder:
• Soldiers should disappear the members of the Khana Nitirat by throwing them from helicopters 
• Along with their families, the members of the Khana Nitirat should be necklaced and burned alive in front of their houses 
• Members of the Khana Nitirat should die a violent death (ตายโหง) [4,10]
• Members of the Khana Nitirat should be beheaded 
• Members of the Khana Nitirat should be beheaded and their heads put on stakes outside the front of the entrance to Thammasat University 
• Ajarn Worachet should be executed 
• Take care of the members of the Khana Nitirat with an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth 
• General death threats [24, 37, 79, 102, 153]
• Thammasat University should be burned down 
• Trash should be thrown at the members of the Khana Nitirat 
To be clear: my point is not to suggest that the proposal of the Khana Nitirat should not be engaged critically. But the comments posted on ผู้จัดการ/Manager are neither critical nor about engagement. They are about calling for violence. In what universe is it appropriate to call for someone whose ideas one disagrees with to be beheaded and their head put on a stake outside a university? This is an attempt to intimidate and threaten the members of the Khana Nitirat, as well as shut down, not open, criticism and conversation. I would further ask, what does this mean – for the present and future of politics, about the possibility of the rule of law, about the protection of human rights, and about the status of the freedom of expression in Thailand? Does dissent – no matter the form – remove one’s claim to be human? In the present political moment, perhaps.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald is the pen name of an observer of Thai politics and history. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.