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”! ( 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.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Murder of a child on night train in Thailand

"Dozens of Thai celebrities on Tuesday shared messages urging the Thai junta to amend the punishment for rapists to capital punishment after Wanchai Sangkhao, 22, confessed that he raped and killed a 13-year-old girl and threw her body out of the window of a train.
The girl took a night train from southern Surat Thani to Bangkok on Saturday 5 July 2014, with her older sister and the sister’s boyfriend. Her sister reported the girl’s disappearance to the authorities on Sunday morning. The bedding and belongings of the girl also disappeared.
The authorities found the body of the girl on Tuesday morning near the railway line in Pranburi District, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. Wanchai, who was subcontracted by the State Railway of Thailand, confessed that he raped the girl after he got high on amphetamines and beer." Prachathai

Murder of a child, mandatory death sentence and the death penalty itself
The rape and murder of a child on a night train is an abominable crime and the most severe punishment available must be passed on the perpetrator. However, the angry demands for the death penalty must give pause.  There are calls for mandatory sentencing. But mandatory sentencing is not an available punishment. “Mandatory” death penalty is a denial of humanity. It is a denial first of our humanity, the citizens of a democratic country; it denies the right of human choice and decision in our affairs even in the punishment of a horrendous crime, establishing an animal like automatic retaliation. Thankfully, despite the many flaws of Thai justice, it does not give place to the injustice of mandatory sentencing.
 The voices for execution of the rapist are becoming frenzied and unthinking. Where do the voices derive the “right” to kill a fellow citizen?  If the rapist is condemned to death it will be for killing another human being.  What good can come of killing this human being? No, it will not deter further crimes by intoxicated and drugged aggressors, rather it will make the lives of all of us cheaper. Setting the rape and murder of a child at the highest level of wickedness, does not imply justifying taking the life of another, thereby weakening the value of life itself.
Is capital punishment an available punishment in Thailand? Indeed yes, on average there is at least one death sentence a week handed down in our courts. However, in the last five years no one has been executed. Abolition of the death penalty has been included for the second time in Government five year human rights programmes. Meetings have been organized by the Ministry of Justice in five regions to explain to the public why abolition is a worldwide choice responding to three UN General Assembly votes for a universal moratorium on executions. Spokespersons of that Ministry have declared in private and in at least one public meeting that there will be no more executions in Thailand.
Thai justice bases itself on the rehabilitation of prisoners. Prisoners retain their humanity and they are still citizens. We may not understand the mentality of the criminal, but we can still respect the humanity which we share. Beginning from a realization that revenge is meaningless, we have learned that just as it does not undo the wrong, neither does it deter future crime. Our cries of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” would return us to a world of vendettas and violence from which it has taken thousands of years for us to progress. Yes, imprison the perpetrator for as long as it takes to ensure that he can no longer be a threat to a child. But let him come to terms with his humanity. It can happen, and it must happen if there is a future to the humanity of us all. Meanwhile we must turn our anger to sympathy for the family of the child who died such an awful death, to watchfulness for the protection of all our children, and for the elimination of the drunkenness and drug taking that took advantage of evil opportunity on a public service.
Danthong Breen
Union for Civil Liberty