Death Penalty is Ugly Vengeance, Not Justice

Justice minister Prajin Jantong visits the lethal injection chamber at Bang Kwang Prison on Dec. 30.
Justice minister Prajin Jantong visits the lethal injection chamber at Bang Kwang Prison on Dec. 30.

Re•tention: Pravit RojanaphrukThe sudden execution of a death row convict on Monday after a nine-year hiatus has ignited a storm of debate over capital punishment.

A protest by members of Amnesty International on Tuesday was followed by a very vocal support for death penalty. Abolitionists were caught by surprise at the level of passionate support for executing criminals.

They have discovered that many Thais, despite calling its country a land of Buddhism, is fact more like a land of Hammurabi where an eye for an eye is the mode of punishment.

Apparently, these people do not see anything wrong with supporting killing in the name of justice. Some even feel justified calling for a death penalty opponent to be sexually assaulted.

They asked why these abolitionists do not hold vigils for victims of heinous crimes and told them to take these convicts to live at their homes if they are so against capital punishment. One even said execution would make to-be criminals think twice and even if someone is wrongly convicted and executed, it’s still worth it.

Teerasak Longji, was sentenced to die for aggravated murder committed when he was 20 six years ago in Trang province. That the crime was stabbing a 17-year-old man 24 times and stealing his wallet and phone did not help. But clearly there were problems with the investigation, particularly uninvestigated leads. And it’s surprising how high support could be when faith in the diligence and professionalism of law enforcement is so low.

The deep divide on the issue is a testimony on how far Thailand is from joining the league of civilized nations where there is no place for the death penalty.

Some activists believe it’s best to lobby the government and in fact the two national master plans for human rights clearly stated that Thailand is aiming to eventually become an abolitionist state.

The popular support for death penalty is a reminder of how no change can truly take place without society having a clear consensus on the matter, however.

There is no escaping the debate and deliberation. It’s clear that activists, mostly Amnesty Thailand members, face an uphill battle in convincing the public, yet there will be no shortcut.

According to Amnesty Thailand, nearly 200 inmates on death row have exhausted all means of obtaining clemency. Time seems to be running out for these prisoners.

In Thailand, the king can grant a royal pardon or clemency and soon it will be clear how such cases are handled under the new king, Rama X.

Abolitionists will have to campaign hard to convince the public that there is no proof that executions deter or reduce heinous crimes, however.

Another approach to is reach out to Buddhists, who are predominant in Thailand, to pause and consider how un-Buddhist it is to support capital punishment when one of the five basic precepts is abstention from killing. How can Thailand call itself the Land of Buddhism when there exists a death penalty?

The right to life is fundamental, if not sacred, and there exists no justification for punishing people by taking their lives. It is simply vindictive and barbaric.

If you think killing is gravely wrong, executing in the name of justice can never be right.

Justice is not about revenge, and people deserve a chance to earn a second chance.

Also, executing a wrongly condemned prisoner is a mistake that cannot be unmade. Already, some media have reported that one key witness insists the man executed Monday through lethal injection was in fact not the killer. Could he have been mistakenly condemned?

There will be no quick solutions as both sides are very passionate about the issue, but Thai society should not run away from facing this existential dilemma in a calmer manner. It can still be hoped that compassion and forgiveness will eventually prevail over revenge and hatred.