Judge shoots himself in the chest as he tries to kill himself in court

A Thai judge who tried to kill himself in court after accusing his superiors of interfering with his verdicts has highlighted questions about judicial independence and fairness in the country.

Judge Khanakorn Pianchana shot himself in the chest in the southern province of Yala after acquitting five defendants of charges that could have condemned three of them to death.

He was said to be in a stable condition in hospital.

A 25-page memo attributed to the judge began circulating online, accusing his superiors of trying to force him to change the verdicts to guilty.

The document was reported to have been posted on Judge Khanakorn's Facebook page, along with a short video of him making similar accusations.

A court spokesman said his action had been the result of personal stress, but several law experts suggest it supported allegations that the judiciary is open to manipulation.

Two phrases employed by Judge Khanakorn struck a chord with social media users: 'Return the verdict to the judge. Return justice to the people.'

Thailand's court system has faced criticism over many years, generally over charges of corruption, but more recently for an allegedly political bias. 

Previous attempts to reform the judiciary have been bitterly resisted, and the courts still spurn most criticism.

In cases since 2006, supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists opposed to military interference in politics often believed they were unfairly targeted for prosecution by the courts, which are seen as allies of Thailand's traditional royalist-military ruling establishment.

Potential problems were more acute in the deep south, including Yala province, where a Muslim separatist insurgency has led to about 6,000 deaths since 2004 amid accusations of army brutality in trying to counter it. 

Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist while its three southern provinces have Muslim majorities.

Judge Khanakorn's statement made several references to the south's security situation.

He said that confessions obtained from alleged insurgents in harsh conditions of detention were not convincing evidence - a point frequently raised by human rights activists, who have accused the army of using torture.

He also recounted that in an earlier case, he was pressured to ease the sentences against three soldiers involved in killing a civilian because he was told they were carrying out their state duties.

The statement also detailed other complaints, about the pay and working conditions of judges in the lower courts.

But it stressed his desire to change the law in order to keep senior judges from reviewing the verdicts of lower court justices before they are issued.

Yingcheep Atchanont of the independent justice watchdog group iLaw expressed his 'respect' for Judge Khanakorn.

He wrote in a post: 'As one of the people who are campaigning for judicial reform, I always believe that there are judges who have principles and dare to break the system but never know where they are. Thank you for letting us know that our belief is true and that there is hope.'

 

Compiled by Olalekan Adeleye

MailOnline

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