Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Ratchaprasong bombing, a critical test of Thai death penalty legislation

  On 17 August 2015, a bombing took place inside the Erawan Shrine at the Ratchaprasong intersection in Pathum Wan District, Bangkok, Thailand, killing 20. The police investigation is torturous and complex, but appears to be succeeding beyond the usual standard of the Thai police force. However, one can foresee some outcome. Several suspects have already been arrested and the supposition is that the bombing is a reaction to the forced repatriation of Uighur refugees to China. There are inflammatory pictures of hooded men on a flight departing from Thailand to China. The search for the bombers is involving other national and international police agencies.
However, several persons have been arrested and some have already been subjected to the unacceptable Thai practice of crime reanactment. Certainly, a trial of some kind will follow. Even under martial law there is a limit to how long suspects can be held without involvement of the courts.
It is revealing and ominous that the head of the ruling junta has already indicated that the suspects will be brought before a civilian court rather than the military courts before which Thai dissadents are now commonly arraigned. This indicates that the outcome of the trials must be acceptable to foreign observers. It is surely likely that a penalty of death will be invoked, in line with recent additions to the Thai legal code which insist on the death penalty for crimes of corruption by foreigners and of crimes relating to air travel. And if the suspects are condemned to death, what then?
The result may be a serious extension of foreign terrorism in Thailand. Even if no extension occcurs, what objective is served? The death penalty is no deterrent. The trial is sure to be prolonged and problematic as real evidence is weak. Is the aim of deterrence served? Hardly. In fact the coming trial is certain to be a crucial test of Thailand's attitude to the death penalty and there will be much foreign representation such as Indonesia has recently experienced.
 What is the alternative? The best alternative is for Thailand to avoid the crisis by embracing abolition in the form of the second optional protocol to ICCPR and pursuing the case of the bombing with the same standards of punishment as the International Criminal Court, which excludes the death penalty.

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