Saturday, August 28, 2010

13 Young Thai Women Condemned to Death in China

In the latest data from the Department of Corrections listed below, there are 68 women condemned to death on drug charges in Thai jails. The figure is sharply increased if we include Thai women condemned to death abroad. At the same time as we were debating in Bangkok the linkage of Drugs and the Death Penalty also reported below, 13 young Thai women were condemned to death in China on drug charges.
All of the women are under 40 years of age, the youngest is 20, and several others are in their twenties. The little that is known of their predicament is reported by an article in the Thai women’s magazine “Koosang Koosom“ by a reporter who accompanied relatives of the girls who were allowed to visit them in a Guangzhou jail in Guangdong province. A Thai monk accompanied the group and was allowed to address the young women for 4 minutes. Two newspaper reporters were present at the meeting but were prohibited to speak to the prisoners.
Some of the women are from Isaan. One 22 year old from Samut Prakhan had opened a beauty parlour in Pattaya where a young black man made friendly overtures to her. A woman in Aranyapradhet was also courted by a young black who invited her to accompany him abroad on the understanding that they would marry on their return to Thailand. A 33 three year old in Bangkok who graduated in accountancy often spent time on the Internet. She told her mother that she had a black foreign friend who was inviting her to help in carrying some documents in a cloth bag relating to trading in the South of Thailand. Her mother asked to meet this friend but her daughter left home. She phoned from Chumphon, then from the South of Thailand, and finally from Mumbai. In answering her mother’s question she said that she did not know the nature of the work she was doing. A final telephone call was from China, saying that she would return home in a few days. Ten days later a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed her that her daughter had been arrested and sentenced to death on drug charges in Guangzhou.
A 35 year old from Ubon Ratchathani was invited to Malaysia to go here and there. All of them ended their journeys in the Women’s Prison of Guangzhou and were sentenced to death.
On further enquiry the news reporter learned that the heroin is produced in Afghanistan. It is transported through Pakistan to India. The Thai women were the ‘mules’ who transported the heroin on the final stage to Guangzhou, a densely populated area which was the one of the new China’s rapidly developed prosperous centres, where the drug market also flourished. The 13 Thai women were seduced by promises of independence and freedom, to participate in the international drug trade, schooled by false lovers who made it all seem easy and without risk. Most, or all, are first time offenders who began by being duped to become minor players in a world wide trade where the profits go to the organizers and the pain is borne by the foolish carriers.

Details of their trial are unknown other than that their offence is drug related. China’s courts pass a death sentence for possession of a quantity of drugs exceeding 50 grams. (The writer of the article appears shocked by this limited amount, unaware that in Thailand the death penalty may be imposed for a quantity of only 20 grams). More persons are executed in China than in the rest of the world, but in recent years it appears that authorities are learning that the death penalty does not solve crime, least of all drug crime. They are aware too that abolition of the death penalty has become a criterion of civilized life throughout the world and that the barbaric, and often public, executions in China are presenting a revolting picture of an inhumane Chinese justice system. Already, a ruling has been made that all death sentences throughout the country must be reviewed by a central court, a measure reducing the number of executions handed down by incompetent and arbitrary courts throughout the country. In addition there is in place a policy of suspension of death sentences for one year to observe and assess the potentiality of the prisoner for reform. If after one year the prognosis is positive, the sentence of death is changed to one of imprisonment. In the most favourable of cases where the prisoner shows genuine regret and a will to reform, imprisonment may be reduced to ten years. This is the hope of the 13 young Thai women. One may be confident that the resilience of these women, and certainly their regret at having fallen into this awful trap, will lead to their emergence from the prison of Guangzhou. They will need the help of their families of which there is no doubt, and also of the support of the consular services of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, embodied in a programme called “Last Hope Project”.

Chinese imprisonment is extremely strict but also punctilious. The health and wellbeing of prisoners is guaranteed. Nothing can be taken for granted, there is no relaxation of security and nothing resembling a ‘human face’ to the prison system.
But when one compares it with the appalling conditions of imprisonment in the Thai corrections system, the arbitrariness of judgment, the death penalties imposed on the word of police witnesses, and what can only be called, the vindictiveness of the treatment of drug related convicted prisoners, the condition of the 13 Thai women in Guangzhou is not the worst fate of all. Would that a “Last Hope Project” could be extended to Thai prisoners in Thai jails. It is important that the fate of the 13 young women be known to Thai people. Popular opinion is likely to be sympathetic to their case and wish them well to return to their homeland. And, hopefully, this sympathy may extend to the unfortunates who suffer even worse conditions and less hope of a positive outcome, in our own jails on Thai soil.

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