Amphon’s medical certificate not clear, court official says
On 16 May, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs met to hear the case of Amphon Tangnoppakul, the lèse majesté convict who died from liver cancer during detention, and invited officials from several agencies including the Corrections Department, the Court of Justice and the National Human Rights Commission, as well as Amphon’s lawyers and family members.
A representative from the Department of Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the meeting that Amphon’s death had been widely reported and criticized by the international press, in connection with Thailand’s lèse majesté law, freedom of expression and politics, which affected the country’s image.
The Ministry has explained the case to the international community. The European Union, which has followed up on Amphon’s case since he was alive, has expressed its concerns about the enforcement of the law and stressed the right to freedom of expression. A Deputy Spokesperson of the US Department of State has requested details of the case. The Asian Human Rights Commission released a statement to deplore the death, and call for the rights to bail and medical care for detainees as well as a transparent autopsy of Amphon to find the cause of his death, the representative said.
Sarawut Benjakul, Deputy Secretary-General of the Office of the Court of Justice, said that the court itself felt uneasy with what had happened. The court granted him temporary release on 4 Oct 2010 on a 500,000-baht guarantee, but later denied him bail. In cases involving Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the court has granted bail to some defendants, including Sondhi Limthongkul. According to court records, 93% of defendants are granted bail by the court. Although the constitution says that a temporary release is a fundamental right, this has to conform to Section 108 of the Criminal Procedural Code, which says that bail will be denied when there is a fear that the defendant will flee. So the court will consider bail requests on a case-by-case basis, he said.
[Amphon was arrested on 3 Aug 2010, and was released on bail on 4 Oct 2010. He was jailed again at the Bangkok Remand Prison on 18 Jan 2011 when he was indicted by the public prosecutor, and had been denied bail ever since.]
He told the house committee that normally the court would grant a temporary release to a defendant if provided with ‘sufficiently clear evidence’, but in the case of Amphon, a medical certificate was submitted and the court considered that ‘the symptoms had not appeared to a great extent’ and could be treated while in detention, and suspected that he would flee. No matter how many bail requests Amphon made, if the court saw that the facts still remained the same, it maintained its decision, repeating the same reason for the denial.
When asked why the court did not consider that Amphon’s illness was severe, given the medical certificate stating that he had cancer, Sarawut said that, in fact, cancer had several stages and at the initial stages could be cured, and [the medical certificate] should have stated the severity of his illness. He insisted that the court was neutral, giving consideration to the evidence and prescribed criteria. However, the discretion of each judge may be different under the scope of the law. He felt uneasy in making comments at this meeting, because he was not a judge, he said.
Phunsuk Phunsukcharoen, a lawyer for Amphon, said that she could only acquire a medical certificate for Amphon which had been issued before he was detained to submit to the court [for bail requests]. After that it was very difficult to follow up on his health.
Pongsak Phusitsakul, a red-shirt medical doctor who took part in the autopsy of Amphon as an observer, said that Amphon was suffering from liver cancer at an advanced stage, not the final stage. A 7-cm long cancerous tumour was found, but the cancerous cells had not yet spread to the heart. He suspected that there was a flaw in the procedure for sending Amphon to receiving medical care, and the Corrections Department should fix this problem.
Sorasit Jongcharoen, Commander of Bangkok Remand Prison, said that all new inmates at the prison had to see a doctor and were questioned about their medical history. Whenever they feel unwell, they can go to see the prison doctors every day, and there will always be nurses on duty. If the illness or the number of patients is beyond the capacity of the prison’s medical facility, sick inmates are sent to the Corrections Department Hospital or other hospitals, he said.
Bunmee Wibunjak, a doctor from the Corrections Department Hospital, admitted that his hospital could not take care of patients as well as hospitals outside, which had full staff. As the prison hospital is not for ordinary people, its staff work during the day time, and at night nurses are on duty. In cases of emergency, nurses on duty will notify doctors and have them order treatment by phone. During weekends, only nurses are available, with no doctors, except in emergency cases, he said.
According to Bunmee, Amphon initially told the prison’s medical facility about his mouth cancer, and an examination by an otolaryngologist showed no relapse. In the middle of last year, Amphon told doctors that he felt that the symptoms had returned, but another check found no anomaly. However, he was sent to for an MRI examination of the throat at Ratchawipha Hospital, outside the prison, but no symptom of mouth cancer was found. In January this year, he came to see doctors again, saying that he had pain in the throat, and the doctor found that the lymph gland in his throat was swollen, and gave him antibiotics as initial treatment. He looked better, the swelling subsided, and he was sent back to prison. Other than this, he lived normally like other inmates, showing no signs of exhaustion or severe illness, the doctor said.
The doctor said that the Corrections Department Hospital could carry out an immediate operation for preliminary cancer, but in the case of Amphon the illness had not yet been diagnosed, while the mouth cancer had already been properly treated and the stomach pains were being investigated. At that time, he began to have pain in the stomach, which was swollen. He was admitted to the prison hospital and given medicine, and had to wait for a medical examination on the following day as at other hospitals. However, as he came on Friday, the referral process did not proceed on the weekend. At that time, his illness did not look serious. His blood pressure was normal and he could eat and walk. Doctors planned to have him checked at an outside hospital, but he would have to be sent during official hours, the doctor said.