Thai Activists Hospitalized After Hunger Strike Over Royal Defamation Cases – The Diplomat

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Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong demanded that a judge revoke their bail in solidarity with other activists facing majesty charges.

Thai activists hospitalized after hunger strike in royal defamation cases

A billboard of King Vajiralongkorn in Krabi, southern Thailand, November 24, 2019.

Credit: Depositphotos

Two young Thai pro-democracy activists have been taken to hospital after beginning a hunger strike to protest what they saw as the unfair detention of critics of the country’s monarchy.

Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong began their hunger strike at Bangkok’s Central Women’s Correctional Facility on January 18, two days after they appeared in a Bangkok court to ask a judge to revoke their bail. The couple intended to show this as a show of solidarity for two other political activists who were returned to prison on charges including majesty, and demanded that the charges be dropped.

Thailand’s majesty law criminalizes any criticism of the monarchy or the royal family and carries penalties of up to 15 years in prison.

According to a report by BenarNews, citing legal advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the couple began the hunger strike after the court refused to reconsider other cases. They were taken to a prison hospital after collapsing two days into their strike, and they refuse to be fed by an intravenous drip or receive medical attention.

In 2022, Tantawan and Orawan were charged with majesty for conducting public polls on royal motorcades. They were jailed but later released on bail. Appearing outside the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court on January 16, the pair poured red paint over themselves after announcing they would revoke their bail in an act of solidarity with other detained activists.

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The pair are just two of the many people facing criminal charges for organizing the wave of public demonstrations that took place in late 2020 and early 2021. The youth-driven protests demanded a series of political changes, including the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the drafting of a truly democratic constitution and – most explosively – limits on the power of the Thai monarchy.

This rare open discussion about the role of the royal family, the linchpin of Thailand’s steeply hierarchical system of privilege and wealth, has been met with a ruthless legal offensive. After a nearly three-year hiatus in prosecuting majesty cases, authorities began issuing indictments in November 2020 and have since charged at least 210 people – many of them protest leaders and political activists – under the law. At least 22 people are in jail awaiting trial, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Many of these cases involve almost comically minor infractions. Last year, a Bangkok court sentenced a political activist to two years in prison for putting a sticker on a portrait of the king. In September, another activist was sentenced to three years in prison for wearing traditional Thai clothing at a political rally in October 2020 – an act deemed insulting to the country’s Queen Suthida.

Hundreds of people, including activists and former politicians, gathered in central Bangkok on Monday to call for the release of Tantawan and Orawan. These included Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the former leader of the disbanded Future Forward Party, who has also been charged with grandstanding for questioning a COVID-19 vaccine deal that benefited a pharmaceutical company owned by King Vajiralongkorn.

In a statement earlier this week, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch called on the Thai government to immediately drop the charges against the couple and to “allow the peaceful expression of all views, including questions about the monarchy.”

“Detaining these activists for the peaceful exercise of their rights is punitive and cruel,” Elaine Pearson, HRW’s Asia director, was quoted as saying.

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