I mused a lot on this yesterday. Are the three Thai judges who passed the death sentence on the two fishermen who murdered British holiday-maker Katherine Horton batting for Thai Capitalism PLC? I ask because in passing the sentence they mentioned how the murder had sullied Thailand’s reputation and threatened its lucrative tourism industry.
Their logic is thus: Thailand = tourism = profits. Ergo, anyone threatening those profits must be seen by the international community to be paying the price, less holiday-makers are put off travelling to Thailand. That the murder, arrest, court case and sentence took place at lightening speed – within 18 days – suggests the Thai authorities have in mind the coming holiday season - Thailand is expecting 5 million touirists in the next 4 months.
Of course there are serious issues here. The trial lasted one day and the defence seems hardly to have been allowed time to prepare a case. The two accused were twice presented with the chance to give evidence, but each time they were also told their statements would be enough. Moreover, the accused were illiterate, one signing his statement with a thumbprint and walking away from court smiling as if he was unaware of just what had transpired.
The police seem to have been anxious to secure a conviction as quickly as possible. One 17-year-old worker at the beachside bungalows where Miss Horton had stayed later told how he had been beaten by police trying to force him to say that the bungalows' owner, Amnoi Dechenna, who had been a suspect, was the killer.
Furthermore, the death penalty ignores a long-standing practice in Thai jurisprudence, that those who come clean and plead guilty are spared the death penalty, and sentenced to life in prison instead. It has been suggested this was the reason the accused confessed early on.
With all respect to the family of Miss Horton, the entire palaver suggests that the bigger crime the two fishermen committed was in damaging the Thai tourist industry. Some 13 million people visited Thailand last year. Though I do not have the US$ figures for 2005, in 2004 11.7 million visitors spent an estimated US$11.55 billion. That suggests a lot of profit is threatened when holiday makers get murdered.