Death penalty taints the record
Thailand has missed a chance to be part of the world majority in marking the international day against the death penalty this week after it carried out the execution of a young convict in June amid high publicity. A few days after Theerasak Longji, convicted of premeditated murder in Trang in 2012, met his final fate, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha defended the need for the country to maintain the death penalty as a vital tool for keeping peace and order and deterring severe crimes. Is it? The Prayut regime makes use of questionable public polls that came out in favour of the death sentence as a justification for the executions.
It should be noted that by the time the 26-year-old convict was put on his deathbed, the country was on the verge of becoming de facto abolitionist, a status that is granted to countries that have not carried out any executions for 10 consecutive years.
Previously, Thailand’s most recent executions were in August 2009 when two convicted drug traffickers were killed by lethal injection. Theerasak was the seventh convict to be executed by lethal injection since the system was introduced in Thailand in 2003.
By killing Theerasak on June 18, the regime broke repeated promises to work towards the abolition of capital punishment especially when it campaigned for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2014. Two years later, during the second United Nations-backed Universal Periodic Review of Thailand, the regime agreed to take steps towards abolition. The abolition of capital punishment has also been a permanent and unfulfilled goal of the country’s National Human Rights Plans since 2009.
Thailand is among a few countries including Japan that still justify capital punishment as a deterrent to crimes, an argument that deserves lengthy debate.
But what has the government done in practice to make progress towards abolition? The answer is simple: nothing. In fact, under the ruling military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), authorities have taken steps that have contradicted and undermined its stated commitment to work towards abolition of the death penalty.
According to the International Federation for Human Rights, the country has a bruised record already given the rise in the number of crimes punishable by death — from 55 in 2014 to 63 in 2018.
The organisation in citing figures released in April 2018 also pointed out that the number of prisoners on death row has also reached a four-year high, with 517 prisoners, 415 men and 102 women, on death row. It’s found that nearly half of the men and 93% of the women had been found guilty of drug-related offences.
In addition, it noted that Thailand has continued to abstain from the United Nations General Assembly’s 2014 and 2016 resolutions on the establishment of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
Just as Thailand under the military regime has suffered a setback on the road to abolishing the death penalty, our immediate neighbour to the south, Malaysia, has made remarkable progress. This month, Kuala Lumpur said it would abolish the death penalty for all crimes and halt all pending executions.
In what is described as a breakthrough, Malaysia’s Law Minister Liew Vui Keong announced on Oct 10 that the government had agreed to abolish the death penalty and that amendments to laws with capital punishment would be presented when parliament resumes tomorrow. The move, part of the new regime under Mahathir Mohammad’s election earlier this year, was received with praise from human rights agencies which stressed the need to abolish the death penalty without “exceptions”.
Sooner rather than later, the Prayut regime will know that it can never rely on capital punishment as a deterrence for crime. The death penalty is not acceptable, especially in a country where the justice system is riddled with flaws, with police investigations occasionally under doubt, and scapegoats more than rampant. Shortly after Theerasak was executed, a theory emerged that he might not be the killer.
In fact, prevention, through strong social and ethical measures, should be the key to tackling crime. More importantly, life imprisonment, without a commuting term, is a more acceptable and efficient punishment choice for people committing heinous crimes. The regime must know that by not abandoning capital punishment, Thailand’s human rights record will continue to be stained.
On top of that, the country has an obligation to honour its promise that it will scrap capital punishment. It should not hesitate to show political will on this serious matter.
This can start with the country voting in favour of the upcoming UN General Assembly resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty in December.
The death penalty is not acceptable, especially in a country where the justice system is riddled with flaws.