Church officials and activists have announced a new petition campaign to abolish the death penalty by lobbying lawmakers and raising public awareness on the issue. The campaign was launched last week ahead of World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10 at the Chatuchak weekend market by the Jesuit Foundation, the Union for Civil Liberty and Amnesty International (AI) Thailand. Yingcheap Uatchanon, a lawyer who attended the event and signed the petition, said the campaign faced an uphill battle. “Most Thai people have been taught since childhood that punishment should be commensurate with the crime.” Only 50 out of the hundreds of people in attendance signed the petition. “People are normally not aware of problems in the judicial system, that many people on death row are innocent and are scapegoats. We have to make the public aware of this,” said Yingcheap. Parinya Boonridrerthaikul, executive director of AI Thailand, agreed that public support for the campaign would be challenging. She added that she thought the government was going in the wrong direction on the issue. “We need to work on two fronts, lobbying politicians and educating the public. We must push the government on this issue and at the same time shift public opinion so that it would be easier for the government to take steps towards a moratorium on executions and eventually abolition of the death penalty.” The network has, since July, published a monthly newsletter about issues relating to the death penalty aimed largely at lawmakers. Of particular concern, Parinya noted, was the possibility that the government would charge participants in anti-government violence last year with terrorism, which could lead to the death penalty. The government has previous said it would consider abolishing the death penalty by 2013. Vilaiwan Pokthavee of the Jesuit Foundation said the network was a useful tool for advocacy. As we work directly with prisoners, we can pass on strategic information of relevant cases to our partners in the network,” said the laywoman who heads the foundation’s prison ministry. She described the death penalty as “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and said that “people on death row suffer great anguish waiting for their execution. Some say they had confessed to a crime they did not commit after being tortured.”
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