The re-enactments are so much like theatre that actors are sometimes hired to play victims. A long-running debate over their fairness and usefulness was reignited this week when a key suspect in last month’s Bangkok bombing that killed 20 people retraced his alleged steps with armed commandos, senior police officers and throngs of media in tow.
The public watched on live television, social media and from the sidelines on Tuesday and Wednesday as police escorted Yusufu Mierili around the shrine where the bomb went off on August 17 and other sites they say are connected to the attack. Officers dressed him in a flak jacket.
“We were afraid he might get shot,” national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said. “It was just a precaution.”
Thai police often put suspects in body armour during re-enactments to protect them from angry mobs, who sometimes lash out. Crowds were calm during the bombing reconstruction, which largely involved Mierili and investigators pointing at various things.
Police say re-enactments help investigators visualise the crime, but legal experts say they violate suspects’ rights and should be abolished. “It goes against the universal rule of human rights that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty,” said Pimpatsorn Natipodhi, a legal scholar with the Thailand Institute of Justice who says the re-enactments convict a suspect in the eyes of the public before a trial is held.
“It serves mostly as PR for the police, to showcase to the public that police have done their job and solved a crime,” said Pimpatsorn.
Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission opposes public crime re-enactments, said Amara Pongsapich, head of the commission. But she said that since there is no major movement to stop the practice, the commission has urged police to conduct the reconstructions in private - without the media and public present - and to respect the basic rights of both suspects and victims.
“The accused should have the right to a lawyer,” which is seldom the case when suspects are poor and uneducated, Amara said. “In the case of victims, these re-enactments violate their right to privacy.”
Sometimes victims are asked to play themselves in the re-enactments, although for violent crimes police call in substitutes. Sometimes the stand-ins are actors and actresses, which has added to criticism that the reconstructions resemble staged theatre.