Protecting people who disagree is a sign of a healthy society

Reporter detained in Thailand for criticizing junta

  • Thailand’s military government has detained a reporter for an English-language newspaper as part of what appears to be a fresh crackdown on critics of the ruling junta.
  • A spokesman for the junta, Col. Winthai Suvaree, acknowledged that Pravit Rojanaphruk, a journalist for The Nation newspaper, was taken into military detention on Sunday.
  • The Nation’s Group Editor-in-Chief Thepchai Yong called for Pravit’s immediate release.
    “There is no justification whatsoever for his detention. If the military believes he has done something wrong, there are normal legal channels to deal with it,” he said.
  • In the last tweet he sent before he was detained Sunday, Pravit said:
    Freedom can’t be maintained if we’re not willing to defend it. » The Asian Correspondent article – September 14, 2015.

Law curbing public assembly takes effect in Thailand

  • The bill was proposed by the police department, approved by the military-installed Cabinet and won a unanimous 182-0 vote in the military-installed National Legislative Assembly before being published last month in the Royal Gazette, which decreed the law would take effect Aug. 13.
  • Human rights groups say the law gives broad powers to authorities to prohibit public assemblies on vague and arbitrary grounds.
  • “This law violates the rights of the people. We want this act revoked,” said Nutchapakorn Nummueng, a representative of iLaw, a legal watchdog and rights advocacy group. » The AP article – August 13, 2015.

U.N. calls for Thailand to amend lèse-majesté law

  • The United Nations on Tuesday denounced “shockingly” long prison terms imposed by Thailand for insulting the monarchy and urged authorities to amend the law and release those convicted.
  • Thai military courts on Friday jailed two people for insulting the monarchy, one for 30 years and the other for 28, the heaviest sentences for the crime in Thai history, lawyers and a legal monitoring group said.
  • “These are the heaviest sentences we have recorded since 2006, when we began documenting cases of individuals prosecuted for lèse-majesté offenses for exercising the right to freedom of expression,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing.
  • The military courts “fail to meet international human rights standards, including the right to a fair trial,” she said. Trials generally were closed with “very little scrutiny”. » The Reuters article – By Stephanie Nebehay

US slams Thailand’s ‘forced deportation’ of ethnic Uighurs to China

  • The United States has weighed in on Thailand’s “forced deportation” of more than 100 ethnic Uighurs.
  • State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the action “runs counter to Thailand’s international obligations” and the U.S. is deeply concerned about the protection of asylum-seekers there. He added that the Uighurs could face harsh treatment in China.
  • Thailand’s decision to send the minority Muslims back to China has also drawn harsh criticism from the U.N. refugee agency, which called it a “flagrant violation of international law.”
  • Kirby is urging Thailand to allow remaining Uighurs to depart to a country of their choice, and he’s calling on China to give due process to those deported. » The Asian Correspondent article – July 10, 2015.

“We have a system that doesn’t do the right thing when the right thing is apparent”

  • A man who spent nearly 30 years on Alabama’s death row walked free Friday, two days after prosecutors acknowledged that the only evidence they had against him couldn’t prove he committed the crime.
  • Ray Hinton was 29 when he was arrested for two 1985 killings.
  • Hinton had won a new trial last year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his trial counsel was inadequate. Prosecutors on Wednesday moved to drop the case after new ballistics tests contradicted those done three decades ago. Experts couldn’t match crime scene bullets to a gun found in Hinton’s home.
  • “I shouldn’t have sat on death row for 30 years. All they had to do was test the gun,” Hinton said.
  • Attorney Bryan Stevenson, who directs Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative, called it “a case study” in what is wrong with the judicial system. He said the trial was tainted by racial bias and that Hinton, an impoverished African-American man, did not have access to a better defense.
  • “We have a system that doesn’t do the right thing when the right thing is apparent. Prosecutors should have done these tests years ago,” Stevenson said. » The Miami Herald article – By Kim Chandler – April 3, 2015.

Thai police make suspects reconstruct murder of British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge

  • Col Kissana Phathanacharoen, a commander involved in the investigation, defended the crime scene reconstruction as an opportunity “to get a sense of what happened” to supplement the DNA tests and gathering forensic and CCTV evidence.
  • “We have also received useful information from the locals,” he said.
  • But with hundreds of onlookers the scene did little to shore up confidence in Thai police methods. Indeed the suspects appeared to be taking stage directions from the police on how to carry out the re-enactment.


  • Human rights group Amnesty International urged Thailand on Wednesday to investigate allegations that police tortured a pair of suspects who reportedly confessed to killing two British tourists on a southern island last month.
  • Amnesty cited a lawyer from the Myanmar Embassy’s legal team, who met with the suspects, as saying that one of the migrants “alleged police beat and threatened him with electrocution.”
  • The group also said that “numerous sources have reported further acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of other migrant workers from Myanmar arrested by police in connection with the investigation.
  • “Thai authorities must initiate an independent, effective and transparent investigation into mounting allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by police,” Amnesty said. “The pressure to be seen to be solving an appalling crime that has garnered considerable attention should not result in the violation of rights, including to a fair trial.” » The AP article – By Todd Pitman – October 8, 2014

  • One police chief said the quick resolution of the case would result in a speedy recovery of tourism numbers on the island. Jaktip Chaijinda, the deputy head of national police, said:
    “Today the case should be finished because we want to clear this case up as soon as possible so that our tourism industry can bounce back.”
  • Rights activists have expressed concern over the lack of legal representation for the men.”The suspects have been kept without legal representation. We still don’t have lawyers observing the process directly,” said Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, a human rights activist.
  • “So we are suspicious about the judicial process in terms of these alleged confessions.”
  • A police spokesman said the suspects had made no request for lawyers.
    “They haven’t asked for lawyers. If they had asked for lawyers we would have provided lawyers for them as this is their basic right,” he said. » The Telegraph UK article – By Damien McElroy – October 3, 2014.

  • Eyewitness testimony may be unreliable, but the Supreme Court doesn’t want to be the one to say so.

    • As Justice Elena Kagan puts it, new research “should lead us all to wonder about the reliability of eyewitness testimony.” Just don’t expect the high court to do much more than wonder.
    • As Justice William Brennan wrote in a 1981 dissent: “There is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says, ‘That’s the one!’ ”
    • The problem, of course, is that you can be very convincing and also wrong.
    • Eyewitnesses are mistaken far more often than people think 2,000 Americans falsely convicted then exonerated since 1989: study “We know there are many more that we haven’t found,” added University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, the editor of the newly opened National Registry of Exonerations.
    • In half of the 873 exonerations studied in detail, the most common factor leading to false convictions was perjured testimony or false accusations.
    • Forty-three per cent of the cases involved mistaken eyewitness identification, and 24 per cent of the cases involved false or misleading forensic evidence.
    • On TV, an exoneration looks like a singular victory for a criminal defense attorney, “but there’s usually someone to blame for the underlying tragedy, often more than one person, and the common culprits include defense lawyers as well as police officers, prosecutors and judges. » The full AP article in the Globe and Mail – By Pete Yost – May 21, 2012.

    Are eyewitnesses reliable? Image source

  • In his book Convicting the Innocent (excerpted in Slate), Brandon Garrett studied 250 DNA-based innocent exonerations, and concluded that 190 of them (a whomping 76 percent) were based on false eyewitness identifications.
  • “DNA exonerations have shattered confidence in the criminal justice system by exposing how often we have convicted the innocent and let the guilty walk free. In this unsettling in-depth analysis, Brandon Garrett examines what went wrong in the cases of the first 250 wrongfully convicted people to be exonerated by DNA testing.

    Based on trial transcripts, Garrett’s investigation into the causes of wrongful convictions reveals larger patterns of incompetence, abuse, and error. Evidence corrupted by suggestive eyewitness procedures, coercive interrogations, unsound and unreliable forensics, shoddy investigative practices, cognitive bias, and poor lawyering illustrates the weaknesses built into our current criminal justice system. Garrett proposes practical reforms that rely more on documented, recorded, and audited evidence, and less on fallible human memory.

  • Just recently, a special master appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court to examine eyewitness evidence concluded that such memory should be treated “as a form of trace evidence: a fragment collected at the scene of a crime, like a fingerprint or blood smear, whose integrity and reliability need to be monitored and assessed from the point of its recovery to its ultimate presentation at trial.” » The full Slate article – By Dahlia Lithwick – November 2, 2011.

    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Justices for All
      Overview | In this lesson, students examine the role of Supreme Court justices in the American political process. Students will research the qualities of the current Supreme Court justices and write opinion papers evaluating the current justices and recommending future nominations. Go to this Law and Society Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Courting Controversy?
      Overview | In this lesson, students learn about the confirmation of Supreme Court justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. They then examine a number of individual issues from different ideological and philosophical perspectives. Go to this Law and Society Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Judges on Trial
      Overview | In this lesson, students investigate how different branches of government affect or aid the appointment of a Supreme Court justice nominee and the responsibilities of a judge. Go to this Law and Society Lesson.
    • Related Learning Foundation LessonCompare the treatment of the accused in China and America in two crime stories.

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    LFS Lessons The Learning Foundation as an American non-profit organization developed programs to encourage independent thinking for over 35 years. My name is Keerock Rook and I have been involved with the Foundation since its inception. I edit most of the lessons.