Thai Buddhism preaches respect for life, the government sentences to death

by Weena Kowitwanij, Asia News, Nov 27, 2009

For supporters it is a deterrent against crime. Those who fight for its repeal contend: it violates human rights and will not prevent serious crime. For the Thai prime minister, "the majority is in favour" and many call for "alternative sentences" such as life in prison.

Bangkok, Thailand -- The application of the death sentence is at the centre of a fierce debate in Thailand, a nation 95% of Buddhist faith the teachings of which prevent even the killing of a mosquito.

Proponents stress that guarantees of "security and safety." The movement that opposes the death penalty has denounced a "blatant violation of human rights" and writes an open letter to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for the moratorium.

On 24 November Srinuannad Wanchai, a top police official and chairman of the subcommittee of the Thai National Commission for Human Rights (Nhrct) organized a public debate on the theme "The death penalty ... what do Thais think? '. He recalls that "in today the world's 139 countries have abolished the death penalty and only 59 still apply it. Thailand is one of them. A punishment that blatantly violates basic human rights".

The last execution took place on 24 August, against two defendants convicted of drug trafficking. The last case goes back six years, in 2003: the death penalty was commuted for the first time, four prisoners by lethal injection, which has replaced the shooting.

In the weeks following the killing of two traffickers, the European Union condemned the practice, asking the Thai government for its repeal. Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva replied that "the majority of citizens are in favour" because it acts as a "deterrent" to crime.

Nathee Jitsawang, former director general of the Prison Department, agrees that the majority of Thais approve the use of the death sentence, but adds that "several studies show that this severe punishment does nothing to prevent major crimes." He emphasizes that it is "time to use other alternative punishments" such as "life imprisonment".

Conflicting opinions emerged among the forum participants, reflecting the widespread sentiment among the public. Paratala, a young man of 25, makes it clear that capital punishment is imposed "at the end of the three court decision" and is "applied in very few cases". Sangkom, 40, is "in favour of the death penalty." Unlike the opinion of Verapong, 50, who stresses that "no one can end the life of another individual."