By Nontarat Phaicharoen
Two young Thai pro-democracy activists are on hunger strike and refusing to be fed by an intravenous drip or receive medical care after they were taken to a prison hospital, a lawyers’ group representing them said Monday.
Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong began their hunger strike in jail last week after they appeared in a Bangkok court on Jan. 16 to ask a judge to revoke their bail on charges of violating the nation’s strict law against royal defamation.
They said they wanted their bail revoked as an act of solidarity to demand that other anti-government activists charged with royal defamation and sedition have those charges dropped.
The pair began their hunger strike on Jan. 18 and were taken to the Department of Corrections Hospital in Bangkok two days later, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said on Monday.
“Tawan was very weak, fainted in a restroom and hit her head on the floor,” TLHR said after visiting the hospital on Monday. “But she refused to have an X-ray.”
“Tawan lost 5 kg. (11 lbs.) while Orawan lost 6 kg. (13 lbs.) They have parched lips, their skin is pale, they are exhausted and have vomited.”
The Department of Corrections issued its own statement on Monday. It said Tantawan hit her head against a wall while alone in a restroom, and that staff had acted professionally and in a humanitarian manner.
“Tantawan slipped in a restroom on Sunday afternoon, her head knocked on the wall,” the department said. “The doctor advised her to have her head X-rayed and kept her under 24-hour watch but Tantawan refused treatment.
“Twenty-four hours have passed and no irregularities have been found. She affirmed she would not have food and water or intravenous drugs or saline,” the statement said, adding they would need a doctor’s approval to be returned to the Central Women’s Correctional Institution, the official name for the central prison for women in Bangkok.
TLHR said the two had refused treatment because they feared it could convey inaccurate messages about their condition.
Charged last year
In 2022, Tantawan and Orawan were charged under Lèse-Majesté, the law that guards against royal defamation, after they participated in protests against the government, including conducting public opinion polls about royal motorcades. They were jailed but later released on bail.
On Jan. 16, Tantawan and Orawan asked the court to revoke their bail in a show of solidarity for two others who were returned to prison over similar Lèse-Majesté charges. They called on authorities to allow other activists to be released on bail and for the abolition of royal defamation and sedition charges.
They began their hunger strike after the court did not respond.
Justice ministry spokesman Sorawit Limparangsri said the court had acted properly.
“Regardless of cases, defendants – the judges always maintain equal justice based on the rule of law, according to international standards and without any outside interference,” he said.
Since youth-led protests against the royals and the government led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha began in July 2020, at least 1,888 political cases had been filed as of the end of 2022, with at least 22 people still incarcerated pending trials, according to the TLHR.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people including activists and former politicians rallied in downtown Bangkok on Monday to call for the pair to be released.
“All Thai people have rights to fair and neutral justice. That should be the new norm for a new and democratic society,” Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the former leader of the disbanded Future Forward Party, told protesters at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.
On Saturday, New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling for the release of Tantawan and Orawan as well as other protesters.
“Holding these activists in pretrial detention for the peaceful exercise of their rights is punitive and cruel,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified, encourages bail for criminal suspects, HRW said.
The covenant’s Article 9 states, “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial.”
Sunthorn Chongcharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet in Bangkok contributed to this report.