Thailand's justice system fails to protect witnesses in high-profile case


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On July 23, the Criminal Court sentenced Angkhan Khammoonna, Sutthinan Nonthing, and Phansin Uppanan _ all holding the rank of senior sergeant major _ to death for premeditated murder and hiding a corpse.

Pol Lt Col Sumit Nunsathit was sentenced to life imprisonment for premeditated murder, while Pol Col Montri Boonlue was sentenced to seven years in jail for abuse of authority to help protect his subordinates from prosecution. (Bangkok Post)

These five policemen were convicted and sentenced for their role in the 2004 murder of 17-year-old Kiattisak Thitboonkrong, who was slain in Kalasin province during Thaksin's infamous War on Drugs.

A triumph for justice, perhaps. But no. All five have been granted bail after being convicted and sentenced. It's not unheard of anywhere in the world for bail to be granted after a sentencing and a conviction in certain cases, but for an offense as serious as this one, committed by men who have a history of showing little regard to the law, it is absurd.

According to the DSI, a further 20 teenagers in Kalasin province are believed to have died in extra-judicial murders during the Thaksin Shinawatra government's war on drugs between 2003-2005.

A witness protection programme for Kiattisak's aunt and witnesses (in other cases) ended on Monday when the sentence was passed — and the cops were released on bail. None of the news stories I've read have really sought to answer the following questions:

  • How can persons convicted of murder — and sentenced to death, no less — be released on bail under Thai law?
  • For there to be a witness protection programme in the first place implies the witnesses were at risk. How can such a programme end if bail is granted to the people the witnesses supposedly needed protection from?
  • For bail to be granted here, the court would normally have to take into consideration the seriousness and nature of the offense and the previous records of those convicted. Has this happened with this case?
  • Can bail justifiably be granted after sentencing for a serious offense like this? If there were a delay in sentencing then that would perhaps change the situation, but all five have been sentenced.
  • Were there conditions of bail?
  • How much was the bond?
  • What's going to happen next?

The witnesses in this case are not being protected if the men they have helped put away for murder are released on bail at the same time as the witness protection programme ends.

From Suani Pasuk, Human Rights Watch:

"[T]he court has granted bail despite acknowledgment in the verdict of the police officers serious crimes and their records of intimidating the witnesses."

I hope you are as flummoxed as I am.

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