Groups Ask Thai King for Mercy in Death Penalty Cases

Asian human rights organizations and the UN human rights envoy to Cambodia have sent desperate pleas to the king of Thailand attempting to save two Cambodian sisters whom the Thai courts sentenced to death for drug smuggling.

The Cambodian rights group Licadho and the Bangkok-based Union for Civil Liberty sent letters to King Bhumibol Adulyadej earlier this month, petitioning him to commute to life imprisonment the death sentences of Kuan Montha, 27, and Kuan Sai, a 35-year-old mother of four.

According to the UCL letter, this was the sisters’ first offense. They and Kuan Sai’s husband were found guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced to death April 3, 2001. The Thai appeals court upheld the decision on May 6, 2003 and the supreme court did the same on Aug 13, 2004.

Licadho also sent a letter to King Norodom Sihamoni, imploring him to ask his Thai counterpart to commute the women’s sentences. King Sihamoni forwarded the message to the government, said Kek Galabru, founder of the rights group.

Om Yentieng, head of the government’s human rights committee, said Tuesday that the government had received Licadho’s request but did not confirm whether the government had sent a letter to King Bhumibol.

“We have learned about this and the government is working on this,” he said.

The issue was also brought to the attention of Cambodia’s UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht during his visit last week. Leuprecht also wrote a letter to the Thai king on Nov 10.

“I urge Your Majesty to consider this appeal for clemency and request the relevant authorities commute the death penalty,” he wrote.

The rights organizations do not know when Kuan Montha and Kuan Sai will be executed. “It could be anytime,” Kek Galabru said. “We are all really nervous.”

Licadho first learned the women were incarcerated in Bangkok when a fellow prisoner wrote a letter last month, Galabru said. The prisoner said she was one of 30 Cambodian women being held in Bangkok’s Women Center Prison. Two of the women were facing the death penalty, the woman wrote.

Licadho staff contacted the Thai NGO Forum-Asia, which confirmed the sisters were in the Bangkok prison and managed to interview Kuan Montha. Forum-Asia also obtained court documents pertaining to the case.

According to a Forum-Asia document, which draws from the interview and court documents, the two women were arrested Oct 7, 1997 with Kuan Sai’s husband, Bunchu Kesee, a Thai national, and the sisters’ 14-year-old brother. The brother was later released.

Kuan Montha told Forum-Asia she was living in Thailand and selling goods at a border market when a Thai soldier approached her and asked her to contact a drug dealer.

Hoping to add to a $2,500 fee owed to her by another soldier, she accepted. It was not clear from the document what role Kuan Montha was asked to take in the reported drug deal.

On Oct 7, 1997, the same soldier came to Kuan Sai’s house and asked to leave some items there for a while, the NGO document said.

Then, it said, two other people helped carry five plastic bags into the bedroom. At that point, the three revealed they were policemen conducting a drug bust.

According to the Forum-Asia document, the police maintain that two policemen and an undercover officer saw the sisters and Kuan Sai’s husband exchange $75,000 for 100 kg of amphetamine pills in a deal organized by the undercover officer.

Kek Galabru said Licadho and the other organizations are looking at King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday on Dec 5 as a possible date upon which he could commute the women’s sentences because he often grants pardons on his birthday.

Kek Galabru said she does not know how many Cambodians are incarcerated in Thai prisons or whether any have been executed in the past. Had the one prisoner in Bangkok not contacted Licadho, she said, this case would likely have gone unnoticed as well.

“Maybe there are others we don’t know about,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)

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