Thai executions meant to shock
The public supports the government's antinarcotics strategy - a fast-track death row for convicts.
When Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra swept to victory here in January, he said his government would focus on three main areas: rooting out corruption, saving the beleaguered economy, and combating drugs with increased vigor.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The public and pundits may dispute his intentions, let alone his success with the first two goals. But there is no arguing that he is fulfilling his promise to hit hard on drug criminals.
Thailand's escalation in its war on drugs was most evident on April 18, when it executed four convicted drug traffickers at the Bangkwang Maximum Security Prison in Bangkok. Two of those executed were foreigners - a Hong Kong national and a Taiwan national. One week before, the government went ahead with its first execution since it came to power, and the first of a drug offender in years.
But not only were the latest executions carried out by firing squad, one after the other, the news media was invited to cover the prisoners' last moments, after they were informed at 4 p.m. that they were to be executed just one hour later. Reporters were not present at the execution, but pictures of the convicts eating their last meals and kissing the earth filled television reports that evening and newspapers the next day.
"Right now, in China and Malaysia, they do the same thing," Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Thammarak Isurangura told the Monitor in a statement explaining why the media was invited. "We need to have the population be afraid of committing offenses such as these, and be submissive to the law."
Strong public support
Indeed, in contrast to weakening support in the United States for the death penalty, the latest poll taken by the Rajjapatra Institute in Bangkok showed that 88.4 percent of Thais support capital punishment. In a 2000 Harris poll, 64 percent of Americans approved, versus 75 percent in 1997.
Currently, seven drug traffickers are on death row at Bangkwang and 180 other convicted drug criminals have been sentenced to die, but have not yet exhausted their appeals. A total of 318 inmates, 288 men and 30 women, are on death row for various crimes.
According to Chartchai Suthiklom, the deputy secretary general of the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), capital punishment is a useful tool in their war, and is a punishment that fits the crime. "The punishment is quite high, but is meant for the big-timers, and it's not only Thailand that has execution," Mr. Chartchai says. "The method of punishment must actually punish the perpetrator, and if you look at drug criminals, they are worse than murderers. Murderers kill one person, a drug dealer kills 1,000, and kills the future of the country as well, so why not give them the highest punishment?"
Although cultivation of drugs such as opium and marijuana, and the production of heroin and methamphetamines, has decreased considerably here due to highly successful crop eradication programs, Thailand still finds itself a major transit hub of illicit narcotics.
As part of the "Golden Triangle," the flow of drugs into Thailand from neighboring Burma, and to a lesser extent, Laos and Cambodia, is still rampant, and is now the main target of Thailand's counter-narcotics operations. While figures on the quantity of narcotics being smuggled through Thailand are difficult to estimate, several seizures - each consisting of dozens of kilograms of heroin and millions of methamphetamine pills over the last year - indicate the drug trade here is alive and kicking.