Tuesday, September 09, 2014


Thailand is considering replacing the death penalty by LWOP or life imprisonment without parole. The horror of this form of punishment is known only to those who experience it. A recent book composed mostly by LWOP prisoners themselves, gives some understanding of what is involved in imprisonment until death. One prisoner describes the situation of LWOP prisoners in a few words, “Life under LWOP is breathing, but not living”.
The prison writers are unanimous in being unable to understand how such a cruel punishment was conceived, or how it is being applied ever more frequently, even to children and for minor non-violent offenses, such as stealing three golf clubs.
The sentencing is summary under the mantra that LWOP is not a death penalty, and mistakes can be rectified afterwards. The sentences are passed without the supposed legal safeguards required for a death sentence. Nor are there the same possibilities of post sentence review, so that the theoretical possibility of review is not a real possibility.
The prison regime of LWOP is dehumanized and hopeless. Prisoners are soon forgotten by the outside world, whether their relatives or friends. The expectation is that they will die as soon as possible so as to free up more prison space for the increased LWOP prison population.
LWOP prisoners age quickly. “The incidence of chronic, age-related diseases skyrockets among older prisoners. We are sclerotic, arthritic, and cancerous far more than people of the same age outside the prison walls.”
In the US factories are migrating to low-wage countries; the prison industry is multiplying and LWOP prisoners promise long term employment for the companies which undertake the commercial administration of this inhuman industry. In Thailand, private hospitals, private education, and of course private housing are making many rich. The Government has already floated the idea that privatisation of prisons will be the next gold rush. Read this short book to see what will come with LWOP.
“All forms of the death penalty need to be discarded in a truly just society”
TOO CRUEL, NOT UNUSUAL ENOUGH, Kenneth E. Hartman, The Other Death Penalty Project, California, 2013   

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Will Thailand replace the death penalty with LWOP?

Since the 1970s the US has instituted a new and fearful punishment referred to as LWOP, life without parole. It was meant to replace a sentence of death, and is in fact a sentence of death in another form to capital punishment by gallows, electric chair, gas chamber, or lethal injection. LWOP is a sentence of waiting for death by illness or old age; it mandates no escape from a prison cell other than as a corpse.
Consider the implications of such a punishment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation of modern society and consists of 30 short affirmations relating to human beings. 22 of those short principles begin with the word “Everyone”, four use an implied equivalent such as “All”, or “Any person”. Besides, there are four prohibitions, for example against slavery or torture that use the negative universal “No one”. Clearly, the map of living established by the consensus of nations, does not envisage that human beings can be divided into two categories, those who are entitled to “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the inalienable rights of all members of the human family[i]”, and those who are non-persons without dignity or rights. And yet there are persons to whom “everyone” or its equivalent does not apply, and who are excluded from the prohibitions which should apply to no one. We may call them “no-ones”, human contradictions which should not, but do exist today[ii].
What is the fate of a “no-one”? A “no-one” has no right, no role, no function, other than to wait for death. Their gender is irrelevant; we may call them “it”. A “no-one” must be placed in isolation from humans, even from other “no-ones”, since any communication between them would be meaningless and could cause trouble. Ideally, the “no-ones” should be supplied with the basic food to maintain life, delivered automatically without any human contact. Their holding cell need not have any amenity or window, other than the bare necessity to preserve life. Since some measure of exercise is necessary, a door is opened automatically once a week to allow them solitary exercise in a bare enclosure. When the allotted time ends a voice orders them to return to their cell and the door closes.
Since there is no rehabilitation, no education of any kind, no entertainment, there is no need of prison staff with skills or responsibilities in human relations. It is best that the prison administration be entrusted to private companies who can handle meaningless services. Best too if the prison is underground as there is need only of entrance, and an exit of corpses, with service access for staff and supplies.
Today, the prison population of those condemned to LWOP, the “no-ones” in the US exceeds 50,000. There is no use in asking whether the “no-ones” deserve their punishment or not. Originally, intended as a replacement for the death penalty, LWOP is now extended even to being a punishment for petty crime, under such policies as the ‘three strike” penal policy, when three minor felonies may lead to the most extreme sentence ever devised.  Repeat petty criminals, or even juniors, may be subject to LWOP.
Will Thailand take this path of choosing the inhumanity of LWOP? Unfortunately, there is a great danger that it will. There is also the hidden threat revealed in the US experience. Once LWOP is introduced, it is extended to being a punishment for lesser crimes with the reasoning that not being the death penalty, its application is more easily accepted. The other factor which emerges is that once accepted as part of the legal code it is next to impossible to repeal, lacking the emotional resistance attached to the death penalty, and justified by an appeal to the absolute safety of society. Note also that in practice a sentence of LWOP is handed down without the protection of extra attention to legal certainty that should accompany passing of a death sentence.
There is a danger that a policy copied from the US, the self-proclaimed icon of human rights, will be uncritically adopted. The official proposal for abolition of the death penalty in Thailand adds the codicil, “and its replacement by life imprisonment”. But the implication is that this intends LWOP, as an assurance of absolute safety from repeat crime. Ominously, the replacement is accompanied by the suggestion of a large number of maximum security prisons. They would be located in remote areas implying a complete isolation of their “no-one” population. The concept that the prisons would be administered by commercial companies implies the absence of government responsibility for programmes of rehabilitation or humane management.
The result is a division between “everyone”, and a population of “no-ones” with no human characteristic.
Does Thailand not have the humanity and understanding to reject this awful choice?   

[i] Preamble: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
[ii] Significantly, a US prosecutor admits that he can recall the names of all those he prosecuted who were condemned to death, but cannot remember the name of a single one condemned to LWOP. See “Life without Parole: America’s New Death Penalty”, New York University Press, Chapter 5, 2012

Monday, August 11, 2014

Thailand “not ready” to end death penalty

“Mahidol University lecturer, Srisombat Chokprajakchat, spoke at a seminar on the death penalty organized by the Justice Ministry’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department on 8th August.
She said that 41.4% of people questioned in an opinion poll, conducted in four regions across the country, believed capital punishment should be maintained while 7.8% held it should be abandoned. The rest of 1073 respondents were undecided. The poll was conducted by the university in conjunction with the government department. It was noted, however, that fewer people supported the death penalty after learning more about it she said.
The university also conducted an online survey. It revealed that of the 1, 301 respondents, who knew little about the death penalty, 73% supported it, while 4% wanted it abolished”
From Bangkok Post -  9 August 2014
Polls of this kind reveal the expected, and repeat the experience of countries across the world, most of whom went on to abolish the death penalty against the opinion of uninformed populations. These populations later proved that the best argument against the death penalty is its abolition. As people realize that the sky does not fall on them, and crime does not run out of control under abolition, they come to appreciate the increased respect for human life that ensues.
Not reported in this article was the option of replacing the death penalty by life imprisonment without parole. Imported from the US, this malign punishment leads to a need for new maximum security prisons. Such prisons are unmanageable and lead to handing them over to the management of commercial companies who lack responsibility to the citizens subject to meaningless imprisonment without hope in these black holes of human society.

Questions on Release of a Murderer

Doctor Wisut,  freed from jail
A gynecologist, Wisut Boonkasemsanti, who killed his wife and dismembered her body in 2001 has been released on parole after serving 10 years and seven months in jail. In 2003 he was condemned to death. Wisut’s death sentence was based on forensic evidence that he killed his wife Dr Phasssaporn. Her remains were flushed down the toilet at a Chulalongkorn University dormitory and at Sofitel Central Hotel in Lat Phrao on Feb 20-21, 2001. The death penalty was upheld by higher courts, but Wisut later filed a petition seeking a royal pardon.
The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at the end of 2007 to mark the 80th birthday celebration of His Majesty the King.
Bang Khwang prison chief Ayut Sinthopphan said Wisut was freed on parole, one of 14 inmates on conditional release. A parole application by Wisut was submitted to the Corrections Department. It was approved by a department committee and the Justice Ministry, leading to his release.
His sentence was reduced on many occasions under royal pardons because of excellent prison behaviour and his service in providing treatment to sick inmates until he had less than five years left to serve. He will be obliged to report to the Department of Probation until his term ends on Sept 24, 2017.
In the atmosphere created by the cruel rape and murder of a child in the sleeping carriage of a railway train, doubts have been raised by what is seen as an early release of a person who “deserved” harsher punishment. Certainly Dr. Wisut received privileged treatment and worked as a prison doctor besides carrying out research on transmission of infectious disease in a prison environment. This opportunity to work in his profession was very different to the miserable condition of the ordinary prisoner. However, he served in the prison hospital which is in great need of medical personnel and deserved some acknowledgement of his dedication. I met him in the wards of the prison hospital and was impressed by his dignity and professionalism.
Rather than regret that his punishment was certainly less than that of less favoured criminals, I believe that his reform and reintegration into society should be accepted as a model of what is possible and an example of the success of rehabilitation. Such rehabilitation is the declared objective of imprisonment as envisaged by all human rights ideals. It is also the declared objective of the Thai penal system.
Is there a risk that those released prematurely will offend again? One cannot deny that such a risk cannot be zero, just as there is always risk that a person hitherto “good” will turn to evil. The risk is minimized by the period of supervision by the Department of Probation and the increased probability of detection by those who have committed crime in the past. But it is risk which society must accept if we wish to establish a humane prison system that offers hope and promise of another chance in life to those who commit crime. Prison is an imperfect system, where the innocent are also mistakenly held, and it can only fulfill its purpose if it functions in a humane and ultimately, sometimes, fallible manner.
We wish him well, strongly recommending that the medical association allow his reinstatement and that the law degree which he earned during his detention be also recognised

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Up Date: Numbers Condemned to Death in Thailand

    Number of Prisoners under Sentence of Death in Thailand on 30th June 2014

                                       All Charges
Gender   Appeal Court   Supreme Court   Convicted    Total 
Male             296                  79                        187              562
Female           37                     1                         12               50
Total             333                   80                       199              612

                                   Narcotic Charges
Male             135                   23                         75              233
Female           30                     0                          11              41
Total             165                    23                         86             274

                              Homicide and other Charges
Male                161                 56                       112             329
Female                7                   1                           1                9
Total                168                 57                       113             338

                          Source: Ministry of Justice

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Human Life is Inviolable

On 24th July the world’s technically most developed nation, the USA, again bungled the execution of a condemned criminal. Supposedly execution is neither cruel nor inhumane, although every execution is patently cruel and inhumane. But a process, which is said to take ten minutes, stretched out for two hours. This horrible spectacle has raised once more the question of the acceptability of judicial killing.
“Everyone has the right to life” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). The life of every human being is unique. No two human beings have the same molecular pattern of life, or DNA. We are unique in so many ways, our finger prints, our eye patterns, the structure of a single hair. Each person has a different history, a different experience, different thoughts and feelings. All of us contribute to human life on this earth, “The still, sad music of humanity” (Wordsworth 1800).
There is sadness to life, storms, diseases, and natural catastrophes that we cannot avoid. Worse still there is the evil we do to each other. “Man is a wolf to man” (Plautus, c. 200 BC) greed, selfishness, anger, violence, cruelty and war affect all of us during our lives. The history of civilization is the history of our efforts to limit and counter such evil, especially to protect the weak and vulnerable. Our greatest protection is our sense of justice and the system of justice that we call civil society. We have evolved laws, courts, schools, hospitals, prisons, police, military, as well as benevolent bodies to help the victims, the old, the sick, the young.
Along the way to build up a humane society we have evolved basic limits of behavior and guides to choice of means. “Man is the measure of all things” (Protagoras 485 BC), not Gross National Product, profit, nor riches, nor fame, nor pleasure, but man himself. It follows that all human life is uniquely valuable, “everyone has the right to life”. A good man may turn to evil, but an evil man can also turn to good. However, Nisit Sinthuprai, a former Pheu Thai Party MP and a red shirt leader in the Northeast….said a few days ago he had no problem with a life ban for politicians, or even execution, stressing only that the punishment must apply equally to all types of politicians involved in vote buying. The casual inclusion of execution as an acceptable remedy for the strengthening of democracy is an intolerable aberration in a person entrusted with political leadership.
None of us has the right to say of another, the life of such a man is forfeit, he should be eliminated. Adolf Hitler eliminated Jews, gypsies, and retarded children, deciding on spurious theories of Aryan superiority that lesser human being had no right to life. In rejecting such theories, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born.
Thailand has fallen into a serious crisis of society, where division, hatred, and intolerance have brought civil life to a halt. Evil doers are identified as scapegoats for the ills which beset us, and the ancient cry for revenge and retaliation is raised, Kill them! Two horrendous rape death deaths of young women have given rise to calls for the death penalty, supported by many signatures of an appeal, but also a renewed acceptance of the death penalty as exemplified in a statement quoted above by the former MP.
But killing others, whether by execution or by imprisoning them until the day they die, does not solve the problems of society. At this moment the issue is with calls to execute people whom we consider totally evil. Evil cannot be eliminated altogether from society. We can limit evil and decrease it by education, wise government, and just punishment which includes the rehabilitation of wrong doers. There will be cases where rehabilitation fails but if the failure rate decreases to a level not exceeding the unavoidable occurrence of evil in our societies then we should accept the risk that released prisoners may offend again. The alternative is a life long imprisonment for the large majority who have achieved genuine reform. By abolishing the death penalty we give vivid expression to the belief that all human life is precious, a belief that will decrease the casual acceptance of killing at all levels, whether within or between nations.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Death Penalty as Comedy


Friday, July 18, 2014

Rape Murders and Death Penalty in Thailand

"When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions" Shakespeare
The worst nightmare of those calling for an end to the death penalty is the occurrence of horrendous crimes incurring the death penalty. Such is the fate of Thailand. First there was the rape murder of a 13 year old girl in the sleeping car of a train as reported in an earlier post. Now there is news of the rape murder of a hill tribe mother and her daughter. But this news is reported in the Bangkok Post in smaller type face and at the bottom of a page. Dominating the news at the top of the same page and in larger type face is the killing of an elephant! Apart from the downplay of the awful killing of mother and child, one may reflect that the clamour to execute the first murderer did not deter the second!
Thailand, where are we going?
                                     Top of page news
Bottom of page news      

Monday, July 14, 2014

Death Penalty Will Solve All Problems

Draco,  the Greek tyrant, who imposed the death penalty for all crimes, returns
In the hysteria of reform sweeping Thailand, the death penalty is seen as the solution to all problems
 Draconian laws refer to a traditional Athenian law code allegedly introduced by Draco in 621 BC. The Draconian Laws were most noteworthy for their harshness; they were said to be written in blood, rather than in ink. Death was the prescribed punishment for almost all criminal offenses. Whether historical fact, or a myth, the tradition lives on in the dream that crime can be solved by a sufficiently severe punishment. Who would steal a purse if they know that the punishment is death? But the question today should be, “Who would execute a citizen for stealing a purse?”
Little is known of the effect of Draco’s laws, other than that they were later regarded as intolerably harsh. In 594 BC, 27 years later, Solon, a moderate magistrate, repealed Draco’s code except for the laws on homicide. Thailand has not quite progressed to the law reform of Solon, and notably retains the death penalty for drug offences. But many Thais would return to the day of Draco and execute for all crimes which they consider abominable or harmful to society. A comment to a recent article pleading for restraint reads, “If we kill off this scum, would society be: a) the same, b) worse off, c) better off. If the answer is c) then kill him. And if we have to kill off 10,000 more such scums, might as well. Our society will be better off”! (http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/420098/for-humanity-sake-stop-calls-for-death-sentence.) We are witnessing the collection of signatures to execute rapists, and most recently a senior politician believes that Thailand can be saved only if those buying or selling votes are put to death. See the following:
A core member of the Bhumjaithai party has proposed that buying and selling votes should get death sentence. 
In voicing his opinion to the problems of vote buying and selling that has undermined the Thai democracy for several decades, the former Nakhon Ratchasimna MP said the existing laws must be amended to increase maximum penalties on vote buying and selling.
Boonchong Wongtrasirat, also a former deputy interior minister in the Samak Sundravej government, said politician who is ruled guilty of buying votes not only must be banned for life in politics, but also must get the maximum penalty for the crime, while the party involved be dissolved and also banned forever in politics.
Convicted politician must either get life imprisonment sentence or death penalty for the crime, he said.
For people who sell their votes to crooked politicians, they also should get either life imprisonment or death sentence, he said.
Such maximum penalty will effectively stamp out vote buying and selling from this country once and for all, he said.
Bhumjaithai or Thai Pride Party, was founded on November 5, 2008.