Judge's shot across bows of judiciary
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Judge's shot across bows of judiciary

A post on the E-jan webpage features the self-shooting of Judge Khanakorn Pianchana who accused senior judges of intervening in a case.
A post on the E-jan webpage features the self-shooting of Judge Khanakorn Pianchana who accused senior judges of intervening in a case.

Was the bullet fake? Was the self-shooting staged? Is he part of an opposition plan to discredit the military and government? Since he survived, he must have manipulated the shooting to avoid damage to major organs, just like in the movie John Wick.

The self-shooting by Judge Khanakorn Pianchana in a courtroom on Friday was shocking. The judge produced a pistol and shot himself in the chest after handing down a ruling acquitting five defendants charged with the shooting of five people in Bannang Sata district of Yala province last year because of a lack of evidence.

Before the incident, he posted a 25-page statement on his Facebook page alleging that attempts had been made to interfere in the case. The statement, which has since been removed, is damning both for the military, which runs the restive area, and the judicial branch if it's found to be true.

His plea -- return rulings to the judges and return justice to the people -- which he apparently tried to make with a bullet through his heart, should be enough to shake a nation riled by stark inequality and the sentiment that justice is not always seen to be done.

Here is a judge, a senior member of the judiciary serving in Yala, one of the three southernmost provinces where most of the population are Muslims, where separatist insurgents have been active and where an emergency decree that bestows ample power upon the military has been in place for years.

His actions alone should indicate the level of desperation that Mr Khanakorn felt.

His allegations, that senior judges tried to force him to convict the five defendants in the Bannang Sata case, which would have resulted in three receiving death sentences and the remaining life imprisonment despite Mr Khanakorn's view that there was not enough evidence, are grave.

His putting his life on the line to call for attention to what he believes is a malady eroding the justice system is as outrageous as it is sickening, especially when considering what amount of despair could have driven the judge to the point of self-sacrifice.

Alas, the deadly serious issues -- alleged interference in and the independence of the country's justice system -- that Mr Khanakorn tried to illustrate with his own life did not come to the fore.

Is it because Thailand's political divisiveness has run too deep? Is it because Mr Khanakorn managed to survive the bullet? Is it because the hate and fear that political camps harbour toward each other has become so pervasive there is no more room for human decency?

Whatever the case, what is more traumatising are the reactions mostly from far-right conservative groups.

One politician from the government wing suggested that the shooting was staged to discredit the judiciary. The MP also tried to link the judge with an opposition party which she accused of trying to instigate unrest.

The government politician made all these severe allegations in Facebook posts, with not a shred of evidence to back up her claims. Thousands of people have liked and shared her posts.

Another discouraging development which can be counted as one more element contributing to the country's failure is the propaganda and bigotry perpetuated by the professional media.

It's admittedly pathetic to hear people comparing Mr Khanakorn to John Wick, in the sense that in the Hollywood action thriller it was possible to stage a "harmless" shooting. But to see media personalities, those who serve in mainstream outlets, push fake news and sensationalised opinions is simply horrible.

How could so-called journalists publicise a wild, unfounded claim that the judge was using dummy bullets? When physicians said that was not the case, what "responsibility" did these media professionals show? The excuse that they pushed these stories because they have heard people talk about it? Since when has journalism equalled hearsay?

There is also the distasteful question of why Mr Khanakorn shot himself in the chest and not the head if he intended to sacrifice himself. This is apparently to support a conspiracy theory, completely unsubstantiated at this point, that the judge was working hand in hand with the opposition Future Forward Party and staged the shooting to sabotage the judiciary.

This kind of yellow journalism is decidedly part of what's wrong with Thailand now. It's part and parcel of the ills that apparently drove Mr Khanakorn to despair. It's, in essence, a failure to do the right thing in the face of personal bias.

Was the bullet fake? Was the shooting staged? These are propagandist distractions. Look into the claims made by Mr Khanakorn. Get a grip of what the military and judicial authorities are doing in the deep South. Clear up all the doubts and fix anything that is found to be wrong.

"Return justice to the people." That is where Mr Khanakorn aimed his bullet. And it's hard-hitting.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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