Theatre since the time of
Greeks produced plays as a mirror to hold up to a society to see the reality of
their existence. We are accustomed to the division of drama into the two
different aspects of our lives—comedy and tragedy. We respond with laughter or
tears as the emotional chords are played on our heartstrings with the virtuosity
of the great dramatist. Not all cultures draw their dramatic heritage from the
Greeks or Romans, nor are all dramas the product of professional stage
producers, scriptwriters and directors.
In Thailand the police
have an exclusive on the right to stage the drama of a criminal reenactment. A
number of times a year it is show time in the Land of Smiles.
The police re-enactment of
crimes has been refined over many years in Thailand until it has reached the
level of an anticipated theatrical event. The reconstructions of actual crimes
might be thought to be closer to carnival or street theatre than Shakespearian
tightly scripted plays. The police having caught the criminal arrange for him or
her (most of the time it’s him) to appear in front of the media and show how the
suspect committed the crime. The police are casted in the role of heroes, the
villain (sometimes there are more than one) is the real-life suspect and
everyone plays their role before news reporters and TV cameras.
This is a different
concept than the TV show like Crime Stopper, where to catch a criminal, the
police reenact the crime in order to engage the public with a request for
information to assist in identifying and arresting the suspect.
In Thailand, the police
arrest the suspected criminal who has “confessed” to the crime. What follows the
confession is a media presentation where the suspect, actors, and the police
stage a reconstruction of the crime.
Reenactments can carry a
light note, a hint of comedy with a suspect who has the media spotlight. That
certainly proved to be the case with Carlo Konstantin
Kohl who escaped
from the airport by a German national where he’d been held in the transit lounge
on his journey from Australia to Germany.
Sometimes the ‘theatre’
moves from the realm of controlled drama produced and directed by the police, to
‘live’ drama, which shows just how badly things can go wrong with a staged
re-enactment of a crime.
In a recent criminal
case, a Vietnamese
national, a suspect in an abduction case was on his way to a crime scene
reenactment, escaped out of the back of a police van.
When a 17-year
reenacted the vicious stabbing of a maid in Phuket—she was stabbed 80 times and
her throat slit—relatives and neighbors tried to beat up the suspect and
the police had to intervene to protect him. As he was a minor his face was
covered by a balaclava.
case of a sexual
assault and robbery of two Russian women, the police had Thai actresses
play the role of the Russians in the reconstruction of the crime.
Obviously a ‘reconstructed’ crime doesn’t actually reproduce all the elements of
the crime. It is more like a power point presentation of how to fly an airplane
than actually getting in the cockpit and taking off.
reported the police rationale for reenactments of crime:
“A Metropolitan Police
specialist said a re-enactment is important for an investigation because each
criminal or each gang behaves differently in committing a crime. Details on how
criminals commit each crime help the police understand the pattern of a crime.
This can help them track down other criminals showing the same behaviour pattern
and help reduce the loss of life and property.”
Reenactments as a police
school teaching tool for crime investigators strikes me as an interesting,
though implausible, heuristic tool. I think the jury is out exactly how such
reenactments expand the range of knowledge about criminal behavior. Watching
Superman in Man of Steel might impart some knowledge about criminal
conduct as well. Crime re-enactments, in my view, touch on a much older idea
about communities gathering to witness a wrongdoer repent, confess his crime,
show his contrition by assisting the authorities in demonstrating what he did.
Reenactments are a ritual, like rituals surrounding birth, marriage and death.
Rituals of cleansing the wrongdoer—with the police as high-priests—are on hand
as representatives of the gods who punish those who do wrong, so that victim’s
family, friends and neighbors can watch the suspect admit his sin.
If the police explanation
is correct, the re-enactments ought to take place in an actual theatre or
classroom. From the photos below, you can see the Thai police staged a
re-enactment of the murder of a well-known and controversial businessman is
being witnessed by only two officers (with one having his interest engaged
Another point, which also
isn’t explained, is why the press is invited to record this piece of theatre,
the large number of police officers who attend such reenactments, or onlookers
who are allowed to watch the whole proceeding up close. Are they training
sessions or workshops? Or is this staged reconstruction more like theatre? May
be it is a ritualized repentance and request for forgiveness as I discussed
earlier. Or could it be an effective way of communicating with the public that
the police not only have solved the crime, protected them, and by locking this
man up they are keeping them safe? As we’ve learnt with recent events in the
intelligence community in America, the desire to feel safe is a license to do
whatever is necessary to accomplish that goal. Reenactments are hatched from a
primordial fear of danger from other people.
A member of the National
Human Rights Commission, Paiboon Warahapaitoon, requested that the police take
into account the human rights implications arising from staging a reenactment of
a crime. Even under Thai law, the accused can’t be convicted solely based on a
confession. A reenactment is no more than a dramatization of a confession that
cannot be used to convict, unless it is supported by independent evidence of
lawyers have come
out to argue that the Thai police reenactments would be illegal in most
Most of the Thai
reenactments are young Thais with little education and from poor families. These
are the faces one sees among the suspects reenacting crimes. The rich and
well-off are not actors in these dramas. They have their lawyers, day in court,
and are usually out on bail, denying the charges against them.
Last week a Thai diplomat
stationed in Cario was involved in an altercation in a luxury hotel. The facts
are yet to be finally established, but the preliminary reports having the young
Thai woman diplomat kicking, scratching and biting an Egyptian lawyer in front
of her husband and other witnesses after a round of insults at Egypt and
Egyptian people . The diplomat has claimed self-defence, but offered no
details as to what caused her to be threatened. The Thai Ministry of Foreign
Affairs has recalled her to Bangkok and said it will investigate the matter.
Whatever is found, one thing you can be assured won’t happen is a reenactment of
If you want to see how the
rich carry on, watch primetime Thai TV lakorn (soap operas) on free TV
channels. They are the next best thing to crime reenactments of assaults and
other crimes the privileged commit. Lakorn is wildly popular amongst a
large segment of the population. This shows there is a popular appetite for
reenactments of crimes, nasty and anti-social behavior which don’t quite rise to
crimes but nonetheless inflict a fair measure of emotional damage to the
For this reason I think it
is unlikely that the popularity of the Thai lakorn will wane any time
soon. And the same can be predicted for criminal reenactments starring members
of the underclasses. All societies need a way of staging drama. Each culture
evolves a set of expectations, roles, producers, directors and media stars. The
Thais give the starring roles to the poor in reality news entertainment in crime
re-enactments, and the rich get theirs in soapy primetime TV dramas. Thai
audiences are as entertained as any member of the old Globe Theatre in London. The show must go on.
And when the price of admission is free, and the villain at center stage
performs his role, for that moment, he achieves a moment of fame. And the police
reinforce their image as heroes, defenders, protectors against the ‘other’ who
are out ‘there’ waiting to kill, maim, rob, rape or assault.
Shakespeare in Richard II wrote: “As in a theatre, the eyes of men, after
a well-graced actor leaves the stage, are idly bent on him that enters next.”
And who enters next may well be someone caught on a video camera. Digital
video recorders in cell phones have the potential, over time, to replace the
police reenactment. The purpose of the reenactment is for the suspect to show
how he committed the crime. In this YouTube clip a Thai man confronts Russian
man with a handgun in Phuket. It is over a woman.
Videos like this eliminate the need for a reenactment.