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Cover of Dictatorship on Trial by Tyrell Haberkorn
Dictatorship on Trial
Coups and the Future of Justice in Thailand
Tyrell Haberkorn


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June 2024
288 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503635463
Paperback ISBN: 9781503639409
Ebook ISBN: 9781503639416

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In 2014, after a decade of political turmoil, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) carried out Thailand's 13th coup since the country's transformation from absolute to constitutional monarchy in 1932. Though the NCPO promised to restore the rule of law, justice—long tenuous in Thailand—disappeared entirely. The legal system was used to criminalize the thoughts and actions of democratic dissidents, facilitate extrajudicial violence, and guarantee impunity for the coup and crimes by state officials. Combining legal and historical scholarship and long-term courtroom observation, Dictatorship on Trial traces the legal, social, and political impacts of authoritarianism, and foregrounds court decisions as both a history of repression and a site in which to imagine future justice.

Organized chronologically across the five years of the NCPO regime, each chapter takes up a different political case and enumerates the ways in which political activists were made vulnerable rather than protected by the state's interpretations of the law, and the mechanisms through which perpetrators evaded accountability. Inspired by feminist legal scholars, the substantive analysis in each chapter is followed by new, rewritten judgments created in collaboration with Thai human rights activists. In plotting these alternative logics, interpretations of evidence, and conclusions, Tyrell Haberkorn outlines what true justice might look like, and assesses the legal and political transformations necessary to realize it.

About the author

Tyrell Haberkorn is Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"A superb and creative contribution to the literature on authoritarian law. Using feminist methodology, Haberkorn not only provides us with a fascinating account of the legal basis of Thailand's dictatorships, but allows us to imagine how it could have been different, and may yet be in the future."

—Tom Ginsburg, University of Chicago Law School

"By rewriting the judges' decisions in five court cases, Haberkorn demonstrates what is possible within the logic of Thailand's own laws and presages an alternative future where the people have the rights promised to them. Her book combines incisive legal reasoning, a passionate commitment to democracy, and a powerful imagination. It sets a new landmark in the study of the law in Southeast Asia."

—John Roosa, University of British Columbia