Saturday, November 29, 2014

Statistics of Prisoners Condemned to Death, 31st October 2014

Source: Department of Pardons

Stage of trial
        Drug related

Appeal court
100         25        125
170        8         178
Supreme court
 19            0          19
 49         0           49
Court complete
 94          14        108
129        1         130
213         39        252
348        9         357

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rape = Capital Punishment: Justice to Whose Benefit

 On 18th November 2014 the Faculty of Social Administration, Thammasat University, held a seminar relating to the theme of problems in the Thai justice system on the theme, “Rape = Capital Punishment: Justice or whose benefit”. The seminar was organized by graduate students of the faculty and attracted a large attendance of graduate students from the Faculty and related disciplines.
The theme is very relevant to a plague of rape murder cases which have recently occurred in Thailand, especially of young Thai girls and foreign tourists. The rape murder of Nong Gaem, a girl child, on an overnight train caused impassioned public reaction calling for the execution of the rapist. The 13 year old child was raped and murdered in a sleeping carriage and her body thrown out of the carriage window.  Police arrested a train employee who was employed as a train attendant, despite previous accusations of rape against female train employees. Other recent cases involve the rape murder of foreign tourists, especially in a recent case on the island of Koh Tao, where the investigation and arrest of two Burmese nationals who worked on the island, was seriously mishandled and where the arrest and accusation is widely suspected of torture of those arrested which led to a confession. The suspects have since retracted their confession which was made without legal representation and conflicts with earlier police announcements. The accusation has been defended by the Prime Minister, leader of the military junta which overthrew the democratically elected government on the 22nd May of this year. The case remains in limbo as the prosecutor questions evidence submitted by police. The accusation has been questioned by the Burmese government and by the UK whose citizens were victims of the rape murder incident.
The case raises the whole question of rape murder and the rejection of Capital Punishment as a solution to such crimes. In an opening address on the problem of rape murder, Dr. Danthong Breen presented the case of the notorious rape murder of a young Indian woman in New Delhi on the 16th December 2012. While there are many similar cases in Thailand, the details of the cases are obscured by biased police reporting, and the practice of presenting details of so called re-enactment of the crime, staged by the police, as evidence of the original crime. The Delhi case involved six men on a bus who viciously raped a 23 year old woman who boarded the bus with a male companion, was raped and assaulted, resulting in her death in a Singapore hospital on 29th December. Her companion was beaten unconscious, and both were thrown from the bus. The case resulted in the imprisonment of a 17 year old by a Court for Juniors, the death in prison for unresolved reasons of the leader of the group, and a death sentence handed down by India’s Supreme Court on the other four accused after a trial which presented incontrovertible evidence against them. India’s policy of applying the death sentence in the “rarest of rare” cases has led to suspension of the death penalty to allow appeal. In defence of the accused their lawyer laid blame for the rape murder on the victims saying that an unmarried couple should not have been on the street at 9.30 pm; he also blamed the male companion for not having sufficiently protected his female companion. The Prime Minister of India assured that all possible efforts will be made to ensure the safety women in India. The Government of India responded with passage of several new sexual assault laws, including a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for gang rape. The Finance Minister commented that “one small incident of rape in Delhi is enough to cost us billions of lower tourism returns”. The dying rape victim expressed to her mother the wish that her assailants be punished by death.
Thailand has yet to react with measures to counter rape crime.
A senior police officer on the discussion panel revealed that research on convicted rapists indicated that they especially victimized girls with long hair, which made it easier to hold them during the rape. They also targeted girls engaged in telephone conversations as they walked alone. The telephone was an added prize to the act of rape.
Statistics on rape crime reveal that the crime is most frequent in Sweden and the Nordic countries, in France, the UK, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, so that it is hardly due to underdeveloped legal systems or low level of education. It is truly a global problem. Statistics from Muslim countries where rapists are subject to the death penalty indicate that capital punishment is not a solution but rather a contempt for women and their low status in society.
Unfortunately the seminar allowed little time for questions of suggestions from the young audience. The problem remains, a truly horrible reflection on society and its legal systems. However, speakers at the seminar remained adamant that the death penalty offered no solution and involved an ever greater violation of human rights.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Woman hanged in Iran for killing a man she accused of attempted sexual abuse

Iran has executed a 26-year-old woman convicted for killing a man whom she said tried to sexually abuse her.  Reyhaneh Jabbari  was arrested in 2007 for the murder of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. She was hanged at dawn on Saturday, 25th October, the official IRNA news agency quoted the Tehran prosecutor's office as saying.
Efforts for clemency had intensified in recent weeks. Jabbari's mother was allowed to visit her for one hour on Friday, a custom that tends to precede executions in Iran.
A UN human rights monitor had said the killing of Sarbandi was an act of self-defence after he tried to sexually assault Jabbari, and that her trial in 2009 had been deeply flawed.
In April she addressed the following letter to her mother Sholeh and her family:
Dear Sholeh, today I learned that it is now my turn to face Qisas (the Iranian regime's law of retribution). I am hurt as to why you did not let me know yourself that I have reached the last page of the book of my life. Don’t you think that I should know? You know how ashamed I am that you are sad. Why did you not take the chance for me to kiss your hand and that of dad?
The world allowed me to live for 19 years. That ominous night it was I that should have been killed. My body would have been thrown in some corner of the city, and after a few days, the police would have taken you to the coroner’s office to identify my body and there you would also learn that I had been raped as well. The murderer would have never been found since we don’t have their wealth and their power. Then you would have continued your life suffering and ashamed, and a few years later you would have died of this suffering and that would have been that.
However, with that cursed blow the story changed. My body was not thrown aside, but into the grave of Evin Prison and its solitary wards, and now the grave-like prison of Shahr-e Ray. But give in to the fate and don’t complain. You know better that death is not the end of life.
You taught me that one comes to this world to gain an experience and learn a lesson and with each birth a responsibility is put on one’s shoulder. I learned that sometimes one has to fight. I do remember when you told me that the carriage man protested the man who was flogging me, but the flogger hit the lash on his head and face that ultimately led to his death. You told me that for creating a value one should persevere even if one dies.
You taught us that as we go to school one should be a lady in face of the quarrels and complaints. Do you remember how much you underlined the way we behave? Your experience was incorrect. When this incident happened, my teachings did not help me. Being presented in court made me appear as a cold-blooded murderer and a ruthless criminal. I shed no tears. I did not beg. I did not cry my head off since I trusted the law.
But I was charged with being indifferent in face of a crime. You see, I didn’t even kill the mosquitoes and I threw away the cockroaches by taking them by their antennas. Now I have become a premeditated murderer. My treatment of the animals was interpreted as being inclined to be a boy and the judge didn’t even trouble himself to look at the fact that at the time of the incident I had long and polished nails.
How optimistic was he who expected justice from the judges! He never questioned the fact that my hands are not coarse like those of a sportswoman, especially a boxer. And this country that you planted its love in me never wanted me and no one supported me when under the blows of the interrogator I was crying out and I was hearing the most vulgar terms. When I shed the last sign of beauty from myself by shaving my hair I was rewarded: 11 days in solitary.
Dear Sholeh, don’t cry for what you are hearing. On the first day that in the police office an old unmarried agent hurt me for my nails I understood that beauty is not looked for in this era. The beauty of looks, beauty of thoughts and wishes, a beautiful handwriting, beauty of the eyes and vision, and even beauty of a nice voice.
My dear mother, my ideology has changed and you are not responsible for it. My words are unending and I gave it all to someone so that when I am executed without your presence and knowledge, it would be given to you. I left you much handwritten material as my heritage.
However, before my death I want something from you, that you have to provide for me with all your might and in any way that you can. In fact this is the only thing I want from this world, this country and you. I know you need time for this. Therefore, I am telling you part of my will sooner. Please don’t cry and listen. I want you to go to the court and tell them my request. I cannot write such a letter from inside the prison that would be approved by the head of prison; so once again you have to suffer because of me. It is the only thing that if even you beg for it I would not become upset although I have told you many times not to beg to save me from being executed.
My kind mother, dear Sholeh, the one more dear to me than my life, I don’t want to rot under the soil. I don’t want my eye or my young heart to turn into dust. Beg so that it is arranged that as soon as I am hanged my heart, kidney, eye, bones and anything that can be transplanted be taken away from my body and given to someone who needs them as a gift. I don’t want the recipient know my name, buy me a bouquet, or even pray for me. I am telling you from the bottom of my heart that I don’t want to have a grave for you to come and mourn there and suffer. I don’t want you to wear black clothing for me. Do your best to forget my difficult days. Give me to the wind to take away.
The world did not love us. It did not want my fate. And now I am giving in to it and embrace the death. Because in the court of God I will charge the inspectors, I will charge inspector Shamlou, I will charge judge, and the judges of country’s Supreme Court that beat me up when I was awake and did not refrain from harassing me. In the court of the creator I will charge Dr. Farvandi, I will charge Qassem Shabani and all those that out of ignorance or with their lies wronged me and trampled on my rights and didn’t pay heed to the fact that sometimes what appears as reality is different from it.
Dear soft-hearted Sholeh, in the other world it is you and me who are the accusers and others who are the accused. Let’s see what God wants. I wanted to embrace you until I die. I love you.
Rayhaneh, April 1, 2014
UCL is deeply grateful to Rayhaneh for this lesson in humanity. We call for immediate and total abolition of the death penalty for women throughout the world. A penalty designed, judged, and carried out by men is archaic barbarity.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thailanad's 3rd National Human Rights Plan: 2014 to 2018

Relating to Death Penalty
Submission to parliamentary discussion that the death penalty be replaced by life imprisonment to achieve legal conformity of state law relating to human rights with international human rights standards, in the following steps:
1.1   Make known the relevant principles of human rights to those involved in the process of justice, and to the people, especially relating to human freedom and the right to life the basis of all other rights.
1.2   To attempt the immediate establishment of an official moratorium on the death penalty and thereby support the moratorium proclaimed by the UN General Assembly, with the aim of changing the death penalty by the end of year 2014.
1.3   Submit that changes be made, by 2017, to the criminal law code reducing the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, especially in eliminating crimes which do not rate as “most serious  crimes” referred to in Article 6 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, for example the crime of arson (currently Thai law makes liable to the death penalty 55 crimes)
1.4   Sign, with a commitment to ratification, the second optional protocol of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, with the prospect of eliminating the death penalty by 2018
1.5   Construct high security prisons  to accommodate prisoners guilty of serious crimes

      Well and good, there is advance on the policy outlined in the earlier Human Rights Plans. But ten years have already passed since abolition was first officially mooted. There is little hope of the policy proposed being accepted by our military controlled government which has no understanding of human rights principles and whose very existence is antithetical to human rights.
      Moreover, the sting is in the final proposal, 1.5. What is the nature of 'life imprisonment' being proposed? 1.5 indicates that life imprisonment until death is intended. Such a sentence is counter to every consideration of imprisonment from a human rights perspective, and has been dubbed the "other death penalty". Uniquely in the US is Life Imprisonment Without Parole (LWOP) imposed. The aim of imprisonment is primarily rehabilitation of the condemned. Abandonment of this hope renders imprisonment as cruel and inhumane as the death penalty itself, and arguably even worse. It is a meaningless and unjustifiable punitive sentence. In Thailand it is particularly objectionable. Our prison system is among the most overcrowded in the world; for women it is the most overcrowded. The ensuing conditions of imprisonment are completely unacceptable. Either the number of prisoners must be, at least, halved, or any budget available be devoted to making present prisons conform to UN  standards. If budget is allotted to building high security prisons, the situation in our existing prisons will deteriorate to an impossible degree. One can predict too that, as has happened in the US, more and more prisoners will be dispatched to high security prisons. The existence of more severe prison conditions will call for their use for even minor crimes in vindictive campaigns for increased deterrence which is never realised.

Friday, October 10, 2014

10th October: World Abolition Day

                Where is Thailand going on the death penalty?
                      Bangkok Post, 10th October
To give a straight answer to a straight question, Thailand is shuffling around rather than going anywhere on the death penalty. There has been movement, the movement of holding meetings and asking opinions. There has been progress, in recognizing the cogency of the world movement for abolition and realizing that Thailand cannot just appeal to its particularity, claiming that crime in our country is so prevalent and vicious that only the death penalty can restrain it.
A recent booklet issued by the Department for the Defence of Rights and Liberties of the Ministry of Justice, lists the incontrovertible case, based on human rights principles, for abolition of capital punishment. The right to life declared unequivocally in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is now accepted as applicable to Thailand. This is a big advance on earlier years where it was quibbled that the Universal Declaration was not in fact obligatory, that the International Covenant allowed capital punishment in the interim, and that the Covenant would have to be incorporated into Thai law before it would become obligatory. The response of Thailand to its responsibilities now lies in a detailed response to the question posed above.
As the saying goes ‘there is an elephant in the room’ namely a major obstacle to abolition, the elephant of public opinion. While individual politicians may pander to public opinion and political parties introduce populist policies to win approval, the polity of Thailand shows little true regard for real public opinion. It is well known that Thais are massively in favour of capital punishment and opposed to its abolition. Strangely, they appear completely unaware that in practice, Thailand no longer executes people. True, people are regularly condemned to death, at the rate of about one death sentence a week, but that is the end of it. In the past ten years only two people have been executed, an event which the Prime Minister of the day, in answer to an enquiry by the Thai ambassador to the UN office in Geneva, ascribed to a mistake.  Condemned prisoners evade the injection of poisons by commutation of sentence so that the number condemned to death oscillates permanently around a total of 610.
The Department of Rights and Liberties has devoted all its efforts to consulting audiences invited to meetings on their attitude to abolition. I attended one such meeting where over a hundred persons gave their opinion. The selection of persons appeared to consist mainly of government officials or their contacts and was hardly a random sample. But they were strongly adamant in their views, capital punishment was necessary, the crimes subject to capital punishment should not be reduced, and the death penalty should not be replaced by life imprisonment. There follow the statistics of replies from five such meetings throughout the country:
“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” 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 the article quoted was the option of replacing the death penalty by life imprisonment without parole (LWOP). 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 commercial companies who lack responsibility to the citizens subject to meaningless imprisonment without hope in these black holes of human society. LWOP 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.
Life imprisonment without parole makes meaningless the ideal of imprisonment as a punishment leading to the reform and rehabilitation of prisoners. In the words of one LWOP prisoner, “Most of my fellow prisoners never receive a single visit, not from their families or friends. Instead they live in a tortured twilight world between life and death. And this fate is not reserved for a few super-criminals, mass murderers, of drug kingpins; it’s the sentence of more than 50,000 men, women, and children. It is unprecedented too, in the long course of human history, as nowhere in the past, and nowhere now in the present, in any other country in the world, were or are people sentenced to the rest of their lives in prison.”
There is a real danger that Thailand will slip into the adoption of this appalling and meaningless punishment, proposed by an irresponsible political non-leadership, to appease uninformed and unconscious public opinion.
Danthong Breen, Director of Death Penalty Project, Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)