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Getting Away With Murder: State Violence and Impunity in Phatthalung, 1972-1975

This paper takes the thang daeng killings in 1972 and their public exposure in 1975 as a point of departure to examine questions about impunity, justice, and state historiographic and archiving practices.

In February 1975, student activists exposed a series of brutal murders of citizens by Communist Suppression Operations Command and other state security forces that had taken place two-and-a-half years earlier in Phatthalung province in mid-southern Thailand.

The thang daeng, or 'red drum,' killings gained their name from the method of killing employed. Accused of engaging in Communist activities, or tacit support for them, citizens were arrested, or simply taken, in large sweeps across districts throughout the province and brought to detention camps for interrogation.

At night, after being beaten until unconscious or with irons around one's neck, individual citizens were placed into empty 200-liter oil drums at the edge of the detention camps, doused in oil, and then burned alive.

Villagers and students estimated that several thousand people in Phatthalung, perhaps as many as 3,000, were killed as alleged Communists in the manner. The exposure of the killings, and surrounding protests, led to an official investigation by the Ministry of Interior.

Despite finding evidence that state actors had killed citizens in thang daeng, the Ministry chose not to hold anyone accountable, for fear that doing so would discourage state actors in their important counterinsurgency work.

This paper takes the thang daeng killings in 1972, while Thailand was under dictatorship, and their public exposure in 1975, during a brief interlude of open politics between two periods of dictatorship, as a point of departure to examine questions about impunity, justice, and state historiographic and archiving practices.


Date: Tuesday, 31 August 2010

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