Thailand Switches To Lethal Injection Oct 19

Published: Mon 13 Oct 2003 11:04 AM
Executions Thailand
By Richard S. Ehrlich
BANGKOK, Thailand -- This majority Buddhist nation will soon legally kill people by pumping chemicals into their veins instead of shooting them when Bangkok switches later this month to lethal injection, a change condemned by Amnesty International.
"A growing number of legal and medical experts in the United States have also recently expressed concern that the cocktail of drugs used in lethal injections may leave the condemned prisoner conscious, paralyzed, suffocating and in intense pain before death," Amnesty International said on Thursday (Oct. 9) in a statement to mark World Day Against the Death Penalty.
"The number of people on death row in Thailand has reportedly nearly tripled in the last two years, and the majority of those recently sentenced have been convicted for drug offences," the London-based human rights group said.
"Scores of people may imminently face execution, and, with nearly 1,000 men and women under sentence of death, Amnesty International believes that Thailand has more people on death row than at any point in the country's history," it said.
"Confessions are frequently used as evidence in capital trials, and defendants have maintained in court that police used force to make them confess," Amnesty added.
"We urge the Thai government to stop executions and to fight crime without taking lives."
Up until 1932, Thai executioners forced condemned people to sit on the ground, bare-chested, with legs extended and arms tied behind their backs to a thick bamboo pole.
According to hand-drawn illustrations, an assistant held the victims' legs at the ankles while the executioner leaped into the air and swung a long sword, chopping off the person's head.
If sliced correctly, the head reportedly rolled into a deep hole dug next to the prisoner.
Royalty and other high society personalities did not suffer beheading because they were too respectable to die in a mess of blood, so instead they would be beaten to death with a big piece of sweet-smelling wood.
In 1932, Thailand upgraded its system by roping or chaining common convicts to a post. A lone rifleman could then shoot a burst of a dozen or so bullets across a room into the standing victim from behind.
Most Thais are Buddhist but also extremely superstitious. By shooting a blindfolded person from behind, it is thought that the dead person's departing spirit cannot see the executioner, who would then be safe from a possibly revengeful ghost.
Thai firing squads reportedly shot dead about 320 people, including at least three females, during the past 70 years.
They executed their last victim, a man convicted of murder, in December. On Oct. 19, Bangkok will again alter its method of meting out death and activate lethal injection, which pumps chemicals into a person -- who is strapped prone onto a hospital stretcher -- until they die.
Death follows three staggered shots: a general anesthetic such as Sodium Pentothal, then a "paralyzing agent" or pancuronium bromide, and finally a heart-stopper such as potassium chloride, which is a colorless crystalline salt.
Thai officials recently showed journalists the new injection system by pretending to kill a volunteer in Bangkok's notorious Bang Kwang Maximum Security Prison.
The intravenous injections, in a white room under fluorescent light, will reportedly work through a ruse of three buttons pushed simultaneously by three prison staff, so they will not know which single button actually releases the chemicals.
The subterfuge was designed to lessen the staff's feelings of guilt or fear.
The Thai government defended its use of the death penalty when it told Amnesty International last year that most Thais favor the punishment as a frightening "deterrent" that protects society from criminals.
Throughout the world, however, opponents argue the death penalty does not deter crime and occasionally snuffs innocent people due to imperfections in judicial systems.
"This is a risk that Thailand should not be prepared to take," Amnesty said. "I think the bad person should get the bad punishment, but I don't know if they should be killed," said a female corporate executive who asked not to be named during an interview about Thailand's switch to lethal injection.
A government crackdown on amphetamines and other illegal drugs, meanwhile, has resulted in the mysterious killing of more than 2,200 people nationwide this year -- in city streets and upcountry -- which officials insist are smugglers killing other smugglers.
Thai and foreign human rights activists, however, warned the high death rate was extremely unusual and could be "extra-judicial killings" by security forces because most cases were never fully investigated.
After the U.S. and other countries cited Thailand over the drug war's skyrocketing death toll, officials stopped publicly counting the corpses and updating the total.
"The death sentence is mandatory in Thailand for premeditated murder, killing of an official on government business, regicide and the production and importation of heroin," Amnesty said.
"It is discretionary for a number of offences including robbery, rape, kidnapping, arson and bombing, insurrection, treason and espionage, and possession of more than 100 grams of heroin or amphetamines, and aircraft hijacking."
Starting in 1977, several U.S. states have embraced lethal injections. Chemical contraptions are also available for governments to legally kill people in China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Guatemala.
Electrocution, shooting, hanging, gassing, stoning and beheading remain popular options elsewhere.
Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is

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