Amnesty says Thailand ending death penalty in practice

Thailand will have ended capital punishment in practice by next year, representatives of Amnesty International said last week, praising the country for not executing any convicted criminals in nine years, while also calling for the Kingdom to formally remove the death penalty as an option available to judges.

Amnesty made the statement in its annual global report on the death penalty that noted “progress all around” with sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia as regions where executions are far fewer now than in the past.

Thailand has not executed any prisoners since 2009. According to United Nations standards, a country must not have executed any prisoners for 10 years for it to be considered to have abolished the death penalty in practice.

Nonetheless, the death penalty is still on the books in the Kingdom, and judges have not been reticent about handing it down as a sentence. In 2017, judges in Thailand handed down 75 death sentences, although that was a sharp decrease from the 216 handed down the year before.

The Department of Corrections said that a total of 502 prisoners in Thai jails and prisons have received a death sentence, although none have been carried out.

“We’re close to becoming a country that is free of executions in practice as recognized by the United Nations. If we can successfully do it, it will be significant to the country’s human rights development,” said Piyanut Kotsan, director of Amnesty International in Thailand.

She called on the government to take the next step and formally abolish the death penalty by removing capital punishment as a legal option for judges to use as they deem necessary.

Capital punishment is available to judges as a possible sentence for 63 different types of crimes. The government has also considered adding corruption as a crime that could result in a death penalty.

Around the world, 141 countries have stopped using the death penalty, while 56 still have it.

“The end of the death penalty is not about encouraging crimes; it’s about cancelling unreasonable types of punishment,” said Pitikan Sithidej, director general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department at the Ministry of Justice.

Some prominent reformers, including Bowornsak Uwanno, the head of the last Constitutional Drafting Committee, have said it is time for Thailand to abolish the death penalty.

A 2014 survey by Mahidol University, however, found that 41 percent of Thais want to keep the death penalty, while only 8 percent supported abolishing it, and the remaining 51 percent were undecided.