Thai judge who alleged interference dies in 2nd suicide bid

BANGKOK (AP) — Police in Thailand say a judge who shot himself last year to publicize alleged interference in his work has died after what was apparently a second suicide attempt.

Police Maj. Sathitchai Nitayawan in the northern province of Chiang Mai said that Khanakorn Pianchana died in a hospital after apparently shooting himself in the chest Saturday morning.

Khanakorn had posted a letter on his facebook page several hours before his death complaining that he was being persecuted after his suicide attempt in October last year.

He was moved from his post as a lower court judge in the southern province of Yala and reassigned to Chiang Mai. His letter said he feared he would lose his position as a judge and face criminal charges related to his first suicide attempt.

That incident drew great attention because of his allegations that he had been pressured to change his verdicts in some politically charged cases related to a long-running Muslim separatist insurgency in Thailand’s southernmost provinces.

He had shot himself in the chest with a pistol in his Yala courtroom after acquitting five defendants of murder and firearms charges that could have condemned three to death.

A 25-page statement attributed to him that circulated online after that incident accused his superiors of trying to force him to change the verdicts to guilty. Supervising judges are allowed to see lower court rulings before they are issued — one of Khanakorn’s major complaints.

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 rights activists, who have accused the army of using torture.

Court officials after the October incident blamed personal stress for Khanakorn’s action and denied undue influence on verdicts.

Thailand’s court system has long been criticized, 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.

“I believe that I will certainly be punished and fired from my job,” Khanakorn declared in his latest online letter, which declared this his “body and mind cannot bear the feeling of utmost grief.”

“To my friends, relatives and the Thai people, I assure you that everything I have done, I did with a clear conscience and I do not regret it,” he wrote. “I am proud to be a part of a movement in bringing justice to the people.”

His note also included a plea for people to donate to a bank account to help provide for the education of his daughter.

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