The Efficacy of Demanding Justice by Committing Suicide

Rewadee Tanlahasuntorn cries Wednesday at the Criminal Court where her husband killed himself.

Re•tention: Pravit Rojanaphruk

What measure of disappointment and desperation would make a man jump to his death in a bid to call for justice?

That’s what happened Monday when Supachai Tanlahasuntorn, 45, committed suicide from the eighth floor of the Criminal Court in Bangkok, right after a judge acquitted Nattapong Ngeonkeeree of murdering his son, Thanit Tanlahasuntorn.

Thanit was stabbed twice during Songkran festival and later died in 2016, and despite many being at the scene as captured on CCTV cameras in Bangkok’s Din Daeng area, just one witness testified – only to later be classified as mentally ill. The victim’s shirt – key evidence that might have contained DNA traces of the killer – mysteriously disappeared along with the knife.

Other potential witnesses were too scared to testify and one even ended up shot and killed in what should be an unrelated crime. But who knows? Then CCTV footage from another camera – that could have provided a definitive image – somehow broke.

Soon after Thanit’s murder, Supachai quit his job and devoted his time to learning from similar cases by attending court sessions and read materials in a bid to pursue justice for his son.

Then came judgment day and the decision was made. He leaped to his death in protest.

Three days later, police reopened the case and police Maj. Gen. Sompong Chingduang – who has been put in charge of re-examining the matter – told the public that the acquittal was merely a ruling from the court of first instance, and that the case could be appealed at the Supreme Court.

Four days after Supachai’s death, Justice Minister Air Chief Marshal Prajin Jantong ordered a meeting of related agencies to review the justice system slated for either Tuesday or Wednesday to derive lessons.

“In the case of the man who jumped to his death, we should separate the process of the court, who made the ruling based on evidence gathered by police,” he said Thursday, suggesting that the court could not ask them to gather more evidence.

This may be “good news” after the tragedy. However, the irony is that it is highly questionable that police and the justice ministry would reconsider the case beyond their business-as-usual mode without Supachai’s dramatic death.

Admittedly, another irony is that I would not have penned this commentary on Supachai had he not commit suicide in public. It is in his death that Supachai managed to get the attention of the police, the court, the press and the public.

If you have to kill yourself to get the wheel of justice moving, then this society has little or no hope for justice at all – particularly if you are a normal person with no connections or wealth.

What’s more, even with Supachai’s death, there’s no guarantee that there will be justice for his son.

You make a down payment for justice with your life by killing yourself, and yet there’s no guarantee that justice will definitely be delivered.

Soon, the press and the public may even forget about Supachai, his son – and justice itself.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the last name of the family as Kanlahasuntorn. It is in fact Tanlahasuntorn.