Judge shoots himself in court in Thailand

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A judge in southern Thailand shot himself in court after delivering a not guilty verdict in the case of five Muslim suspects charged with murder in the predominantly Buddhist country’s restive south.

Khanakorn Pianchana shot himself in the chest after acquitting the suspects charged with murder, illegal association and gun-related offences on Friday afternoon because of insufficient evidence. He was in hospital on Saturday.

On Saturday, people laid flowers in front of the court in Yala, one of the three Muslim-majority southern provinces at the heart of the insurgency that has claimed more than 7,000 lives since 2004.

“He is safe now. We don’t know why he did this, probably his stress from personal issues,” Suriya Hongwilai, spokesman of the Court of Justice, told Reuters.

“I confirm that there is no interference in the work of judges. They are independent in making verdicts,” he said.

Suriya said he would report the incident to the Office of the Judicial Commission on Monday.

“I don’t think it’s just about insurgency in the three southernmost provinces, he (the judge) may want to convey a message that there is a problem with the entire judicial system,” said Yala resident Ameed Mata.

“The insurgency issue is the most intense in the judicial system, his decision was apparently to show Thailand that this problem does exist,” he added.

Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat were part of an independent Malay Muslim sultanate before Thailand annexed them in 1909. Some rebel groups want an independent state.

Reporting by Orathai Sriring, Juarawee Kittisilpa and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Kay Johnson and Hugh Lawson