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Why Thailand needs the death penalty

The majory supports capital punishment, though there is a middle way short of abolition

Amnesty International has come under fire for deploring the execution on Monday of a convicted criminal who stabbed to death a teenager while stealing his phone and wallet. The victim was found with 24 knife wounds. The violent crime was committed in Trang province in July 2012 by a man with a history of arrests who turned 26 this year.

Amnesty’s Facebook page on Tuesday was inundated with comments criticising its attack on Thailand’s first execution since August 2009. Amnesty International Thailand’s claim that there is no evidence the death penalty has any deterrent effect was challenged by angry Thai netizens who support retaining capital punishment and rebuked the group for protecting “evil criminals”.

A live online broadcast of an Amnesty International Thailand press conference on Tuesday outside Bang Kwang Central Prison, where the execution by lethal injection was carried out, drew many angry comments from viewers criticising the group’s stance against Thailand’s latest punishment by death.

Some asked if the anti-execution campaigners sincerely believed that someone who cruelly killed one of their own family members did not deserve to be punished by death. The Facebook Live broadcast was full of “angry” emoticons posted by viewers.

Meanwhile, in an online opinion survey, 96 per cent of the 78,000 respondents showed support for the execution of convicted murderers. Judging from that reaction, we may conclude that a large segment of Thai society agrees with executing convicted perpetrators of violent crimes.

To change those minds, Amnesty International and other such groups will need to produce convincing evidence that a more humane penalty – such as lengthy or life imprisonment – is an effective method for turning people convicted of violent crimes and repeat criminal offenders into law-binding citizens.

It’s wise to show leniency to first-time criminals and those who commit criminal offences out of rage or perceived necessity. But when it comes to repeat offenders and seasoned criminals, can we really see the possibility of reform?

Capital punishment has been rare in Thailand in the 15 years since the country adopted a “more humane” method of execution, by lethal injection, in December 2003. The execution on Monday was the seventh since then. Many citizens blame a lack of harsh punishment for a seeming rise in violent crime in recent years, such as rape-murders and killings that involve dismemberment and other gruesome acts.

We should opt for a middle path between the two extremes, between the abandonment of capital punishment as advocated by Amnesty International and applying the death penalty for anyone convicted of a killing.

The death penalty should be reserved for premeditated murder. The Thai justice system seems to follow this middle path. There are more than 500 prisoners currently on death row, and only one person has been executed.

Yes, we should consider the rights of the convicted criminals regardless of their sins. But we also should not ignore the feelings and rights of their victims’ aggrieved families. The authorities have to ensure justice for all parties involved in criminal cases and make sure no innocent people are punished for crimes they did not commit.

Anyone can have a rosy view of humanity from time to time – believing that perpetrators of violent crimes and repeat offenders can be reformed someday. But they also should accept the fact that not all of those criminals can be reformed, no matter how much effort goes into it. NATN – EP

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