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Richard Ehrlich: Executing 'P' Dealers In Thailand

Executing 'P' Dealers In Thailand

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand used its new lethal injection system for the first time to enforce its controversial war on drugs by executing four people in a single day, including three convicted for possessing a massive amount of methamphetamines.

Thailand switched from firing squads to lethal injection in October, and the four death sentences carried out on Friday (Dec. 12) were the first time anyone was killed by the new method.

"However, prison officials said it took nearly an hour to administer the lethal drugs to the first inmate, who was unidentified, because officials initially could not locate his veins," the Bangkok Post reported on Saturday (Dec. 13).

Three of the men confessed after being arrested in 1998 with 115,000 methamphetamine pills, plus powder to make more pills. Their death sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court.

The fourth man was executed for a murder in 1999 and his appeal was also crushed by the Supreme Court.

Except for the delay during the first lethal injection, the others reportedly took only 15 minutes each while doctors, public prosecutors, police and prison officials watched.

Local and international human rights groups, however, warned that courts in many countries occasionally convict innocent people and sentence them to death, including in the United States where executions were halted in Illinois due to discrepancies.

"I believe Thailand will have more innocent people on death row," said London-based Amnesty International's director for Thailand, Srirak Plipat.

Thailand is believed to inject a general anesthetic to knock the person out, then squirt in pancuronium bromide to paralyze their neuro-muscular system, and finally potassium chloride which stops the heart, according to reports from Bangkok's notorious Bang Kwang Maximum Security Prison.

On Dec. 10, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution of Kevin Lee Zimmerman in Texas because of a lawsuit which claimed it was cruel and unusual punishment to use pancuronium bromide in lethal injections.

"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's London headquarters said in October.

It was unclear if pancuronium bromide allowed suffering only among people not sufficiently sedated, and if a different anesthetic would be strong enough to protect the person from experiencing pain while paralyzed by pancuronium bromide.

In Thailand, nearly 1,000 people were said to be on death row, mostly for drug offences.

Thailand declared a nationwide victory in its war on drugs on Dec. 2 after more than 2,500 people perished on the streets and in the countryside, mostly under murky circumstances.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said his February to November campaign was a success and presented the achievement to Thailand's widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej as a gift to honor the monarch's birthday on Dec. 5.

The king said the high death toll needed to be explained.

"Victory in the war on drugs is good," the king said on Dec. 5 during his royal birthday ceremony attended by the prime minister and other officials.

"They may blame the crackdown for more than 2,500 deaths, but this is a small price to pay. If the prime minister failed to curb [the drugs trade], over the years the number of deaths would easily surpass this toll," the king added.

"They blame the prime minister for the drug deaths. Not all the deaths have been counted, but most of victims were killed by those involved in the drugs trade. There may be only a few deaths for which authorities must take responsibility, so we have to classify those who were killed by fellow dealers, buyers and addicts, and those killed by authorities," King Bhumibol said.

In reply, the prime minister -- a former police officer who received a PhD in criminal justice at Sam Houston State University, in Texas -- promised the deaths would be investigated.

The prime minister earlier said most of killings were committed by drug gangs to prevent smugglers and dealers becoming police informants.

Human rights groups said police failed to investigate most of the deaths and, at the very least, proved the cops could not protect society or solve crimes.

"Regarding recent press allegations that Thai security services carried out extrajudicial killings during a counternarcotics campaign in Thailand, Prime Minister Thaksin stated unequivocally that the Thai government does not tolerate extrajudicial killings and assured President Bush that all allegations regarding killings are being investigated thoroughly," said a joint statement issued by the White House when the two leaders met in Washington in June.

"President Bush appreciated Thailand's leadership in hosting one of the largest and most successful U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration operations in the world as well as the U.S.-Thai International Law Enforcement Academy," the White House said at the time.

** -ENDS- **

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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