19 January 2006

Death in Thailand

On different occasions, Mr Wang has written a lot about capital punishment on this blog. Here is one example, here is another, and see here and here as well.

Today the Straits Times has an article about a capital case. This case has nothing to do with Singapore, but that in itself is advantageous in helping Singaporeans understand the issue more clearly. We get none of the distractions of the "them-vs-us" mentality which unfortunately confused both Singaporeans and Australians in the recent Nguyen Tuong Van matter.

One of Mr Wang's essential points in the capital punishment debate is the need for a principled stand. If one opposes capital punishment on the basis of the sanctity of human life, then one opposes capital punishment all the way. You cannot pick and choose between those whom you think deserve death, and those whom you think do not.

Our present case concerns a British tourist, Katherine Horton, who was raped and murdered by Thai fishermen on the popular island resort of Koh Samui. The crime was brutal:
Ms Horton, a Reading University student, was brutally attacked while vacationing in Thailand.

She was speaking to her mother Elizabeth in Wales on her cellphone when she was set upon by the two men.

The attackers had earlier been drinking and watching a pornographic film on a fishing boat moored offshore. They then swam ashore, came across Ms Horton, hit her with a beach umbrella, raped her and threw her into the sea.

Her body was found floating in the sea the next day.The murder led to an uproar in the British media and outrage
... and the evidence was clear-cut:
Judge Chamnong Sutchaimai said the forensic evidence could not be disputed and the brutality of the crime committed by them had shocked society.

'The court has ruled them guilty of all the crimes they were charged with and imposes the maximum penalty,' he told the packed courtroom.
Notwithstanding this, Katherine Horton's mother has taken a principled stand. And so does the British government.
The victim's mother had earlier said she would prefer the two spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Britain's Foreign Office thanked the Thai authorities for finding the two fishermen who raped and murdered Ms Horton.

It too insisted that it opposed the death sentence.
They think that the death penalty is wrong in principle. And therefore they oppose it. It does not matter that the victim was her daughter; it does not matter that the victim was a British citizen; it does not matter that her death was caused in a most brutal fashion by two evil foreigners in a foreign land. Those two evil foreigners are human beings too, therefore they should not be executed. This is what Mr Wang means by a principled stand.

Alas, it seems that it is Thailand which has gone astray:
The murder led to ..... outrage among locals in Koh Samui who were appalled by the incident and worried it would hurt the island's booming tourism industry.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, concerned about a drop in the tourism dollar, last week called for the death penalty.
This is so wrong, so wrong, so wrong. Firstly, Mr Wang believes that you should not kill people. Secondly, Mr Wang believes that you should not kill people for the sake of tourism.

"Sigh. Times like this, I really wish I was a
tourist attraction in some other country."


Bernard Leong said...

Mr Wang,

I agree with you that on the grounds that we cannot pick and choose when to kill or not to kill people to our whims and likes.

I came from another school of thought. I support the death penalty only for intentional murder, based on my personal philosophical view on what justice constitutes for me. The people from the other side of the house uses the succumb to universal human values to argue the case, but at the end of the day, they do not see in the frame of reference to the victim's family. There is no real compensation to the victim's family in such cases and the only solution is to punish the criminal with death. The law is a derivative of that justice and hence it will try to extract the position which most people would subscribe to.

We can take this further into a discussion if anyone is game for that.

That's my two cents worth. Something tells me that I know you from a distant past, but please keep the blog going with your fresh perspectives.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Your basic argument is that killing the murderer will somehow compensate the victim's family.

In this case, however, the victim's family (her mother) does not WANT such "compensation". She does NOT want the murderers to die.

So what is your view then.

From a 3rd party objective viewpoint, I also find it difficult to see how killing the murderer would compensate the victim's family. The victim, after all, is dead. Not coming back, regardless of whether you kill the murderer or not.

singaporean said...

Regarding this case, I personally find it appalling that the Thai PM can shorten the due process to a death sentence to a mere two(?) weeks. I totally fail to see how Thailand's image can be improved upon. People get raped and murdered everywhere, but if your judicial process is suspect, anybody, innocent or guilty can be hauled off and be given a lethal injection at the blink of an eye. Who in their right mind will want to tour such a country?

That said, for many people, myself included, capital punishment is something one could take a stand either for or against, and then look for justifications for the stand.

While the death sentence is an established human tradition, prison life is a fairly new experiment, and the cruelty it entails is not well understood. I found this article via reddit.com and I thought it was really interesting.

Stephen Donaldson, A Million Jockers, Punks, and Queens, Stop Prisoner Rape: Sex among American Male Prisoners and its Implications for Concepts of Sexual Orientation, Stop Prisoner Rape, Feb. 4, 1993.

I never understood the term "Who's your daddy?" till I read the article. While the Singapore prisons system has managed it's image well and we hear nothing of prisoner rape here, it still begs the question: Is a long prison sentence necessarily a "lighter" punishment than death? And as Mr Wang has pointed out many times, is a long prison sentence necessarily a lesser deterrent, especially if the full horrors of imprisonment is well understood?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Yes, we can talk about whether a life sentence or a death sentence is a greater or lesser deterrent.

However, this line of argument is only relevant if we consider deterrence to be the overriding factor, in deciding our personal stand on capital punishment.

On the other hand, deterrence is not necessarily such a factor. For example, if you believe that human life is sacred, and your belief is strong, then that would form your stand on capital punishment on the basis.

Deterrence then becomes irrelevant.

Bernard Leong said...

For those who want to use deterrence as an argument, you will be thrown by others with statistics that the number of murder cases does not correlate with the institution of the death penalty.

The death penalty for intended murder has been justified by the law (depending on which country, and for Mr Wang as the lawyer, please correct me if I am wrong about this.)

My response to Mr Wang's question is that the family does not intend to have the murderer put to death. My view is that in the legal process, the judge makes the decision for handing out the punishment based on the facts & arguments presented by the prosecutor and defense counsel. They can make that clear through their lawyer, but the judge will make the final decision. Unless the family has a say in the court's decision, the murderer might be spared.

If we do a poll and ask the people, "Which punishment is considered justice to you for intended murder to any of your family members?", I am pretty confident that at least 90% of the people will agree to death penalty.

Best regards,

singaporean said...

I am a Catholic, and from a religious point of view, I believe that the human life is sacred. I believe that abortion, suicide and euthanasia is evil. However, if one is to enshrine such values in law on non-believers, one has to consider the consequences. In banning abortion, will we force abortions to go underground and endanger the very people we want to protect?

From a strict religious point of view, I believe that only God is a fair judge and only He can give the fair punishment for a crime. That does not mean the judicial system should be dismantled; instead I believe it should focus on protecting members of the society. In meting out sentences, the sentences should always focus on prevention and deterrence of the crime; we leave the retribution to God in the afterlife.

From this point of view, someone like Took Leng How ought to be imprisoned for life, rather than hanged, because I have trouble believing Took made a rational decision when committing the crime.

OTOH, Shanmugam and Nguyen clearly made a decision to solve their financial needs. I cant judge if they actually have a choice, but I rather hope to believe that there will be people who would choose to smuggle cigarettes over heroin because the sentence is lighter.

Even for those who believe that human life is sacred, there are limits. Mr Wang for example, does not oppose military service right? Serving military service simply means that one chooses to kill when the safety of one's country is at stake. I see the death penalty in the same light.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Really? Actually, Katherine's mother's reaction is not at all unusual. I'm not even talking about hypothetical polls. I', talking about actual, reali-life cases.

Google around and you will see many similar examples of murder victim's families who do not want the murderer to be executed.


1. http://talkleft.com/new_archives/008456.html

2. Try googling for this book: "Don't Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty" (Rutgers, 2003)

3. Extract from here:

Does an execution help the victim's family?

Many victims' families don't think so.

Families and friends of a murder victim often discover that it is a mistake to think an execution will "bring closure" to their loss. In the words of the parent of one victim, "its an impossible thing. Nothing can bring closure...." The circumstances of the crime, as well as a sense of loyalty may have encouraged them to seek vengeance, and to call out for the most extreme penalty. Prosecutors may recreate the earlier emotional climate at the trial in appealing for the death sentence. In the heat of these emotions, few seem to realize that a death sentence and the resulting appeal can simply divert the healing process for the victim's survivors. Media attention may often be directed to the murderer, and to the legal aspects of the case, leaving the victim's family feeling betrayed and neglected. Because efforts to prevent an execution may continue to the last minute, prosecutors may be tempted to promote a vengeful state of mind in family members. Many families of murder victims find too late that a vindictive attitude has only multiplied their wounds, and that the execution gave them nothing.

4. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/VictMVFRamicus.pdf

Etc etc.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Your point about being Catholic and not imposing your beliefs on others -

well, I would be more inclined to take your point more seriously if there were religions which were actively pro-death penalty. As far as I know, there are none. So I think your point is a red herring. If Singapore were to abolish the death penalty tomorrow, there is no religion that's going to get offended and say, "I must object! Killing people is a vital part of my religion."

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

On military service:

well, I think that wars are great evils, precisely because people have to die in them. If military service was not compulsory in Singapore, I of course would not ever have chosen to participate in it. I do think, however, that having an effective defence force does serve to deter others from starting war, and therefore help to prevent evil from occurring. In an actual wartime scenario, I think soldiers are justified in killing to save themselves (after all, their own lives are in danger). This, however, is quite different from the case of a murderer who can be safely locked up for good.

singaporean said...

On the surface, strong opponents of the death penalty like the EU, is the heart of Christendom. But on closer examination, the pews of churches in the EU are empty on Sundays. The official religion of the EU is more likely agnosticism than Christianity.

OTOH, states with massive religious interference like Iran and now, USA, are big fans of the death penalty. The Christian Right in the USA is more interested in a federal ban on abortion than abolishing the death penalty. The false prophet Pat Robertson went so far to call for the assasination of the Venezuelan president.

While real modern Christians ought to be against the death penalty, but when religion and politics mix, religion gives more excuses to use the death penalty.

It is not hard to see why: If there is an afterlife, it doesnt matter what we do to someone now - we make a mistake, God will compensate the person in paradise. It is better for one to die in the flesh than die in the soul...etc etc.

In the absence of religion, IMHO one will have to look at the utilitarian aspects, which is universally appealing, as opposed to personal philosophical views because there are ten billion versions of it.

In the modern age, wars may not involve nation-states any more. The participants need not be wearing uniforms or even carrying guns, and the motivation to kill may not involve personal security. Take the 9/11 attacks for eg. The passengers of the first three planes chose to protect their own lives and/or chose not to fight the hijackers. The passengers of the fourth plane chose to end the lives of everyone onboard. In the end, everybody died, but there is little doubt who did the right thing.

I seriously doubt that there is big number of people in this world who believe it is always wrong to take a life.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


But of course. By giving up their own lives, they saved the lives of many more people. Otherwise the plane would have been used to crash into another building.

How does this example illustrate a pro-death penalty stance??

As for EU stance, it is basically an Amnesty International stance. Which in turn is a human rights stance. Which in turn is not dependent on religion.

Which only shows you that you don't have to believe in God to believe that human life is precious.

Does that surprise you? I doubt it.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

And really, there aren't "10 billion" versions of views on the matter. If you really boil it down - I remember seeing a rather neat essay on this - the issue just comes down to six or seven main arguments, and you can take either side of it. You could break it down into a flowchart and fit it on one page.

Here, let me try to show you:

Argument 1

A. "Capital punishment is against human rights. In fact it's against the most basic human right of all."

B. "My government doesn't believe in human rights."

Argument 2

A. "Capital punishment is an effective deterrent and reduces crime."

B. "Studies do not show capital punishment to be an effective deterrent. And there are many other possible ways to reduce crime" or ... "Human life is too precious" or ... "There are many equally effective methods of deterrence."

Argument 3

A. "God doesn't like capital punishment."

B. "My government is bigger than your God / I don't believe in God."

Argument 4

A. "Capital punishment is cheap, you don't have to feed the guy for years and years."

B. "You shouldn't kill people just because it costs money to keep them alive."

Argument 5

A. "This man intentionally killed someone. He deserves death."

B. "Two wrongs don't make a right" or "Revenge? Oh, you're so ... primitive."

Argument 6

A. "Let's kill him, for the sake of the victim's family."

B. "How on earth does killing him help the victim's family?"

Argument 7

A. "What if you hang the wrong person? The death penalty is irreversible."

B. "Oh, our legal system is very good. It won't happen."


That's all there is, really.

singaporean said...

IMHO, a non-religious person may take a human life more seriously than a religious person. You only get one shot at life; no afterlife, no reincarnation.

But yet without religion, just how much more sacred is a human, compared to a chimpanzee? If life is nothing more than chemical reactions, is it really that evil to snuff out a human life, compared to snuffing out a candle?

Mr Wang believes the human life is sacred, but he also believes that a life should be taken in times of war or to save other lives.

If my unscientific unproven opinion of death being an effective deterrent is true, I would have failed to protect the victims, just like the passengers of the first three planes hijacked on 9/11.

singaporean said...


If my unscientific unproven opinion of death being an effective deterrent is true, I would have failed to protect the victims, just like the passengers of the first three planes hijacked on 9/11, if I allow the death penalty to be abolished.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


"Mr Wang believes the human life is sacred, BUT he also believes that a life should be taken in times of war or to save other lives."

I don't understand your use of the word "but".

Perhaps you meant "AND".

And I don't see why if a person does not believe in any particular religion, he would therefore view life as just a series of chemical reactions.

Heretic_Guy said...

Mr Wang,

i agree with the abolishment of capital punishment in many instances. However im at a loss in the case of deranged serial killers(not to be seen in the same light as mass murderers)who dont just kill, but also mutilate their victims before and after the act of slaughter in a dehumanising manner? Is there any punishment that could justify the severity of such crime if not death itself?


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Well, obviously if they are really deranged and legally insane, they shouldn't even be found guilty. But merely locked up in a safe place, like all other very insane people who might otherwise pose a threat.

Sleepless in Singapore said...

Mr Wang, on a slightly different matter. Yesterday, there was a news report about a judge who said that foreigners who break the law here should not expect to be shown more leniency. Yet, I recall past cases where the prosecutors asked the court to impose 'deterrent' sentences when locals commit crimes against foreigners. Does not seem to be fair. Can you share your thots. Thank you.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Did not read the report, but I think you have to distinguish between the categories of cases and crimes.

Your second category relates to domestic foreign maid workers, yes? Who are in a position where they are susceptible to being victimised (alone; poor; separated from family and friends; lowly-educated; dependent on employer for food/lodging etc) and therefore the prosecutor wants to get deterrent sentences so as to send a message to the public -

"Do NOT molest / beat your maid. It is a serious offence".

Anonymous said...

The death penalty argument has been beaten to death all over the media.

Basically there are two camps, the antis are the ones who don't have the guts to do justice and disrespect the victims family and friends, while the pros are accused of not being merciful and humane, whatever that means.

It is moral justice and the finest example of human rights to execute brutal murderers, paedophiles and rapists.

It costs a lot of money to keep some murderer in prison for life. Who is gonna pay? You? What if he kills some other prisoner or guard in prison? Are you gonna be responsible for that? What if he keeps on killing? What if he escapes and goes on a killing spree? All this has happened in the past.

The trick is not to have any concern for the murderer, once we are sure he is guilty. We only concern ourselves with the victim's family, friends, the other prisoners, guards, etc.

It requires guts to deliver justice, and to take stern action to protect others. Many people are cowards and just don't have it.