What’s at stake on the day of the black panther
Let fair justice prevail in a case overshadowed by public mistrust of a social system too often waylaid in the past
On February 5 last year, rangers patrolling the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in western Kanchanaburi province, on the lookout for loggers and wildlife poachers, came across a camp in an area where no camping is allowed, let alone hunting. They seized weapons and animal parts including the remains of a legally protected black panther, (Panthera pardus). Four mid- to advanced-aged men were arrested – Yong Doadkrua, Natee Riamsaen, Thanee Thummat and Premchai Karnasuta, 63, the last being president of Italian-Thai Development, a major construction firm. All have maintained their
The rangers seized two rifles, a double-barrel shotgun, ammunition and what was left of a Kalij pheasant, a Muntiacini (barking) deer and the skinned leopard already salted for preservation of the meat, its skull kept separately.
As reported in The Nation at length this past weekend, forensic analysis of the scene was extensive – blood and tissue, bullet trajectories, DNA tests. The authorities, spurred on by avid public interest in the affair online, dominated by a consensus of revulsion, appear to be set on securing a conviction. We can only speculate at this stage whether they’re on the right track, but the “black panther case” has stirred widespread outrage. And it all comes down to whether such a wealthy and well-connected individual as Premchai could possibly be convicted by a judicial system so often gamed in favour of the elite.
The verdict comes tomorrow.
The case has drawn so much attention because it involves all the shortcomings of Thai governance – law enforcement and a justice system appearing to treat the rich and poor differently, a bureaucracy ready to kowtow to the monied and the powerful, and official disdain for the natural environment when private financial gain and national economic interests are at stake.
Tomorrow’s verdict, assuming there’s no further delay after 13 months, comes five days before the election and will be competing for news space with coverage of the campaign. Neither will affect the other at this late date, but consider the patina that will be applied to Thailand’s international
reputation by a verdict of guilty or innocent. Is Thailand’s judicial process truly fair and transparent? Do the laws and the evidence count more than social status?
The outcome of this case will provide an even clearer picture of the future than the election tally. We can only hope the best practices of law are followed, but, regardless, the verdict will be an historic one. Our dark history of criminal charges controversially being dismissed (no matter who is in government) is brightened by the fact that this case has been prosecuted relatively quickly.
Italian-Thai Development Public Co Ltd was founded in 1958 and has a solid reputation. It’s one of the Thailand’s best-known
private entities. That standing along with Premchai’s hang in the balance here, making this a fascinating case. But set this aside and what we have is a simple matter of alleged illegal poaching. Countless others have been convicted or acquitted of the same crime. What we primarily wish to see here is international-standard legal
consideration of the evidence and due respect for the defendants in their denials.