BANGKOK — Uncertainty is looming over Thailand’s commitment to abolish the death penalty in light of massive public support for capital punishment.
Amnesty International Thailand said Tuesday that it’s unsure whether the government’s fourth national human rights plan will once again commit to abolition as an explicit goal. Last year, Amnesty was informed by the government that Thailand would be unable to abolish capital punishment by the end of 2018 as had been stated in the current five-year rights plan that concludes this year.
“We are concerned, but we don’t know how the new plan will look like. Prior to this, the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection informed us that [Thailand] wouldn’t be able to abolish the death penalty [this year] and things would have to proceed step by step,” said Piyanut Kotsan, director of Amnesty Thailand.
She added that the group, whose parent organization campaigns against capital punishment worldwide, was kept out of the loop about last week’s execution of Teerasak Longji. The 26-year-old murder convict was the first person to be put to death in nine years, ending what had been a de facto moratorium on executions.
Piyanut said she’s been unable to contact the government’s civil liberties division to discuss the matter.
Calls placed Tuesday and Wednesday to the office of Pitikarn Sithidej, head of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, were not returned.
Piyanut said her group would try to reach out to the public more effectively and constructively after coming in for a barrage of hate speech and violent threats by phone and via social media following its protest against last week’s execution.
“Some said we should be dragged out and raped,” Piyanut said. “We won’t retaliate because it would only exacerbate the situation. We try to understand why they were angry and whether we hurt their feelings. They feel they have no other recourse.”
Last week, on Monday, death row convict Teerasak was executed at Bang Kwang Prison by lethal injection for an aggravated murder six years ago in Trang province. On the following day, about 10 activists led by Amnesty protested in front of the prison. This was followed by angry messages, including a wreath sent to its office and threats of rape against the group, which has about 800 members in Thailand.
Some domestic polling has since found wide margins of support for capital punishment.
“They may have fear and feel unsafe as well as feel angry on behalf of the victims,” Piyanut said, adding that Amnesty needs to more effectively communicate that opposition to the death penalty does not mean supporting heinous crime.
The AI Thailand director said there is no model used in other countries that Thailand can simply emulate when it comes to abolishing capital punishment. She cited success in Mongolia this year, which ended the death penalty after a very active campaign by Amnesty members there.