Thailand's Justice Ministry says it has no plan to execute rapists who murder their victims, saying such a harsh penalty would provoke more rapists to kill.
The ministry's third-ranking official, Tawatchai Thaikyo, posted the comments Monday on his Facebook page amid growing outrage over the suspected rape and murder of a 27-year-old teacher, whose alleged attacker was a convicted rapist who lived in her apartment building. The woman's death has prompted calls for harsher penalties for rapes and capital punishment for fatal rapes.
Capital punishment is legal in Thailand for 35 different crimes, including drug offenses, terrorism, national security crimes, murder and fatal rapes. But in practice, the death penalty is rarely used. The last execution was carried out in 2009 for two drug traffickers.
"If raping equals the death penalty, it would encourage rapists to kill all victims to shut their mouths,'' Tawatchai said. "Wouldn't it be better if we require all convicted rapists to undergo a rehabilitation program and give them support to prevent them from committing such crimes again?''
Part of the public anger is over the prison system's failure, in this case, to rehabilitate. The main suspect in the attack Friday is a 27-year-old factory worker who was released from prison last August after serving less than two years behind bars for raping a friend's wife.
He initially told police that he lived a few doors down from the teacher and knew her apartment door was broken, so he sneaked in late Friday with the intention of raping her but she fought back so he killed her, local media reported. He later changed his confession to say he had no intention of raping but only wanted to rob the teacher. Another neighbor found the woman's naked body, her throat slashed, the day after the attack.
The suspect, identified as Chatree Ruamsungnoen, was arrested Saturday and police canceled a subsequent reenactment of the crime, which is common in Thailand when suspects confess, over concern he would be attacked by angry mobs.
The head of Thailand's military government also commented on the case, saying he disagreed with the calls for capital punishment.
"Look at what other countries are doing globally. Human rights laws have stopped capital punishment in many countries around the world,'' Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said, adding that severe penalties alone won't prevent rapes. Even if the punishment were "three executions'' it still might not be enough to deter criminals, he said.
"Society has to help pressure them,'' Prayuth added, saying public condemnation could be a greater deterrent than the death penalty.
Rights groups say rape in Thailand goes largely unreported and unpunished, partly because police often don't take complaints seriously.
Thai police receive about 4,000 rape complaints a year and make about 2,400 arrests, according to the Thailand Development Research Institute, a public policy research institute that gets data from the Justice Ministry.
The number of unreported rape cases is estimated at 30,000 per year, the institute says, amounting to a case every 15 minutes.
The victim's father added his voice to the calls for capital punishment at a news conference after his daughter's death.
"I don't want to see laws kill a person,'' the father said Monday. "But if we let such a bad guy go free, he will kill again.''