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New Thai king pardons 150,000 prisoners, commutes death sentences to life

Thailand's new King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun
Thailand's new king Maha Vajiralongkorn (center)
THAILAND’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has issued a decree granting pardons to certain prisoners in commemoration of his accession to the throne.

Under the decree in the Royal Gazette, which takes effect today, the new king granted full pardons to prisoners sentenced to no more than three months in jail for minor offences; prisoners released on parole; and prisoners who carry out community or public service instead of paying fines.

According to the Nation, the decree countersigned by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will also grant pardons to prisoners who are disabled, blind and those suffering from mental disorders, cancer, leprosy, HIV and chronic kidney failure.

Prisoners above the age of 60 and have served over five years or at least one-third of their jail terms as well as those younger than 20 years of age who have served more than half their total jail term or have less than two years to serve will also be pardoned.

Under the royal decree, convicts who have been sentenced to death will also have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Thailand has been in a state of national mourning since Bhumibol’s death at age 88 and public reaction to the new king has so far been muted, although there were earlier concerns over the country’s stability in the wake of the former monarch’s passing.

Thailand has been torn apart by decades of political strife and unrest and Bhumibol had been long regarded as the nation’s one true symbol of unity.

King Vajiralongkorn ascended the throne on Dec 1 after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, on Oct 13.

“This is the first opportunity since his majesty’s ascension to show his mercy,” the Royal Gazette said in a statement, announcing that 150,000 inmates could be eligible for release or to have sentences cut, under the pardon.

Officials do not have a figure for the number of inmates who will benefit from the pardon, with decisions to be made by different prisons depending on factors including the inmate’s age, how much of the sentence has been served and behaviour.

Prisoners jailed for insulting the monarchy and drug offences will be eligible, said Kobkiat Kasivivat, director general of the Department of Corrections.

“Prisoners convicted of 112 and prisoners convicted of drug offences will be included for consideration for release or commuting of sentence,” Kobkiat told Reuters, referring to the royal insult law by its article number in the criminal code.

The government has not released a figure for the number of people who are in jail for royal insult but there have been more than 80 prosecutions under the law since mid-2014, according to figures from the legal monitoring group iLaw.

“The inmates will be looked at on a case by case basis at each individual corrections facility,” Chanchao Chaiyanukit, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, told Reuters.

Those convicted of murder and rape will not be eligible for release or to have sentences cut, officials said.

Thailand’s prison population has soared in recent years, largely because of tough drug laws.

Corrections Department figures for July showed a prison population of 321,347 in Thailand, with about 70 percent jailed for drugs offences.

Sources: Asian Correspondent, Reuters, December 13, 2016

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