Death penalty risks fuelling Southern violence

The use of special laws to sanction the death penalty for those convicted of terrorism charges in the far South risks fuelling violence in the insurgency-plagued region, it has been warned.

Experts say capital punishment could provoke more violence in the far South. (AP Photo)

Speaking at at the seminar on justice and the death penalty in the Southern border provinces, Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) member Danthong Breen said the government has gradually been adjusting Thailand's legal system in line with international human rights standards.

But he warned the pattern of sentencing for defendants involved in security-related cases in the South has failed to keep pace with improvements to the wider system, due to the invocation of special laws. 

Mr Breen said death penalty was neither a deterrent nor a solution to serious offences such as terrorism, arguing that capital punishment actually provokes more violence in the long-term.

The use of the death sentence merely results in more power clashes between the government, which wants to quell rebellion, and "powerless" people, who feel threatened by the brutality of security forces, he said.

Mr Breen estimated that around 60% of death sentences meted out in Thailand relate to cases in the deep South.

Sittipong Chandharaviroj, chairman of the Muslim Attorney Centre (MAC), said those handed the death sentence in the deep South have mostly been dealt with through special law procedures, some of which have existed for more than a century without being scrutinised or revised. 

Mr Sittipong said martial law includes a clause that gives the authorities broad powers to detain anyone considered to have breached national security.

Suspects, he said, could be detained for seven days without a court warrant or prosecutor's order.

A number of human rights abuses have been reported and civil society organisations have appealed to the courts to address problems with the use special laws, including the emergency decree and the Internal Security Act, he said.

Supreme Court guidelines on the application of special laws go some way to helping minimise arbitrary arrests and improving the treatment of suspects, but flaws in the use of such laws persist.

A Muslim man carries the body of his 11-month-old daughter to her funeral after she was shot dead in an attack on a teashop by suspected separatist militants in Narathiwat on Dec 11, 2012. (AFP Photo)

Anukul Awaepute, MAC chair in Pattani, said the lawyers' organisation is calling for the abolishment of special laws, warning they are a "direct link" to the death penalty.

Mr Anukul warned too many suspects in security cases are now being used to give testimonies on other suspects, on charges such as terrorism and or collaborating with members of terrorist movements.

A lack of rigorous forensic evidence has made people scapegoats in many such cases, Mr Anukul added.

Justice Ministry figures show there were 525 prisoners on death row between 2004 and 2013, comprising 488 men and 37 women. 

The Department of Rights and Liberty Protection is meanwhile questioning people nationwide on how best to proceed with the abolishment of the death penalty as encouraged by the international community.

Surveys will be carried out this Wednesday in Phuket and on 28 March in Bangkok. 

Christine Schraner, Swiss ambassador to Thailand, lauded Thailand's efforts to ask its citizens about how best to abolish capital punishment.

Thailand is one of the 58 states that still has death penalty, with the last execution taking place in 2009, said Ms Schraner.

She expressed concern about ongoing violence in the South and praised lawyers for their work as human rights defenders.

But Air Chief Marshall (ACM) Veeravit Gongsakdi, a senator, said he was afraid that there might be a surge in violent crimes if the death sentence was abolished.

"Thai society still needs to impose certain preventive measures to avert people from indecent, improper and illegal behaviours," he said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the seminar, Mr Veeravit said serious cases like drug trafficking, rape and murder show why the death sentence seems necessary, even though actual executions are rarely carried out. 

"It's mostly a deterrent and generally those on death row are still entitled to the royal pardon request," he said.

Veeravit added that the entire judiciary requires an overhaul.

"The relevant authorities such as police, prosecutors, court, and corrections officials must be honest and not discriminatory or bribe-prone. We need a paradigm shift through to readjust family and individual behaviour," he said.

Related search: Thailand, south, southern insurgency, militant, insurgent, terrorism, death penalty

About the author

Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Senior Reporter