After delivering a verdict of acquittal to five men facing trial on murder and firearm charges, presiding senior judge Khanakorn Pianchana stood up, faced the photo of Thailand’s king, and shot himself in the chest on Friday, 4 October.
The judge, who posted his 25-page decision on Facebook before attempting suicide in a Court in Yala, Thailand, said in his decision that he was pressured to find the five men guilty despite the lack of evidence. According to the judge, he was threatened by regional chief justice Permsak Saisrithong with a disciplinary hearing if he did not deliver a guilty verdict in the case.
Apparently, the judge’s original Facebook post was deleted but the photos he posted of his verdict were reproduced by another person, as seen below:
If found guilty, those defendants would have to face the death penalty. Mr Khanakorn said he could not bring himself to do that to them due to a lack of evidence. In his verdict, the judge said that investigators had failed to provide evidence that would prove those men’s involvement beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge wrote at the end of his decision, “Return justice to the people”.
He added, “my statements might hold weight as light as a feather, but a judge’s heart must be as firm as a mountain”.
Mr Khanakorn also said in his verdict that he was not the only judge facing such pressures.
“At this moment, other fellow judges in Courts of First Instance across the country are being treated the same way as I was,” he wrote. “[If] I cannot keep my oath of office, I’d rather die than live without honour.”
According to a report on the Khaosod English news site, Office of the Judiciary Suriyan Hongvilai said that the incident is being investigated. He told reporters that a preliminary inquiry has shown that the judge attempted suicide due to “personal stress”.
However, the Deputy Leader of the Future Forward Party Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said in a Facebook post that he doesn’t believe that explanation.
The politician, who previously taught law, said that based on information he has received from the Defendants, it appears that Mr Khanakorn’s allegations of interference are confirmed. He also said that Mr Khanakorn has been trying to reveal claims about the Thai court system since early September.
Mr Saengkanokkul added that he will release that information ‘soon’.
In a video posted on Facebook, it appears that the judge filmed himself delivering the verdict. In the video, Mr Khanakorn can be heard saying that while the men may not be innocent of the crimes, there was no enough evidence to condemn them.
He said, “When we punish someone, the punishment wasn’t limited to them alone. Their family is punished too. Therefore, if we are not absolutely sure, we shouldn’t punish someone”.
After he shot himself, the judge was rushed to Yala Hospital where he was treated for his injuries and placed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Two days later on Sunday (6 October), the Bangkok Post reported that the judge has been taken out of intensive care, according to the spokesman.
Mr Khanakorn was visited in hospital by the secretary-general of the Office of the Judiciary, as assigned by Supreme Court President Salaiket Watanaphan. Following the visit, Mr Sarawut reportedly headed to the Yala provincial court to meet with the Yala court chief judge Aniruj Jaithiang and chief of Yala youth and family court Pusita Lalee to convey the Supreme Court president’s more support to judicial officials in the province.