Hunger strike Thai protest leaders ‘weaken’, lawyers warn


Two of the leaders of the Thai democracy protests that sparked explosive criticism of the ruling monarchy last year are on hunger strike and in deteriorating health, according to their lawyers and relatives.

Chiwarak Ditch “Penguin” and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul refused to eat in Bangkok prison in recent weeks to protest Thai judicial officials’ decision to deny them bail as they await trial for lèse majesté and other costs.

Both are students at Thammasat University and belonged to a faction of radical protesters who called for the powers and wealth of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Billionaire Head of State of Thailand, to be limited.

The protests were unlike any other the kingdom had seen in recent years in the boldness of the demands. But this daring broke Thailand’s harsh laws protecting the king and his family from criticism, including lèse majesté, punishable by a maximum penalty of 15 years. The couple have been in prison since February.

Parit announced his hunger strike on March 15 and refused everything except liquids, according to Krisadang Nutcharut, one of his lawyers. “We tried to ask the court to give him bail because we believe his condition is dangerous to the point of losing his life,” Krisadang told the Financial Times.

Parit was “clearly extremely thin”, tended to tire easily and could not stand without support, he said. The activist receives a drop of saline solution.

“I am concerned about his health at the moment,” said Paopoom Chiwarak, the imprisoned activist’s cousin. “Parit is not a very healthy person to begin with.”

Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul began his hunger strike on April 2 © Mladen Antonov / AFP via Getty Images

Panusaya, who began her hunger strike on April 2, looked tired but “not as bad as Penguin’s case,” said Krisadang, who also advises her.

The students were arrested in connection with a decisive repression on the leaders of the protest last year. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, who also advises activists, there are at least 17 people in detention linked to protests or political participation.

“Penguin has weakened, and conditions of detention are of growing concern now that Covid-19 has spread inside the Bangkok remand center where he and others are being held,” said June Sirikan, an attorney for the group, told the FT.

Thailand’s Department of Corrections said Parit and Panusaya’s health was monitored “every day, several times a day,” including their body temperature, hydration level and blood pressure.

He said the two students were also being closely monitored by closed-circuit security cameras around the clock in case they needed assistance, and that preparations had been made to take them to hospital in the event. emergency.

The ministry did not comment on their bail requests, which it said fell outside its jurisdiction.

In addition to lèse majesté, the two activists were charged with sedition and other alleged crimes related to event in September in Sanam Luang, the “royal floor” in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The protest was the biggest in 2020 and protesters planted a plaque stating that Thailand belonged “to the people, not the king, because they deceived us.”

The protest movement calmed down this year after a wave of arrests and a more forceful response from the police, who used water cannons, tear gas and blockades to thwart the protests. After refraining from using lèse majesté in recent years, Thai authorities have laid several charges under the law and have terminated some pending cases.

Anchan Preelert, a former public servant, was convicted in February of multiple law-breaking charges and sentenced to a record-breaking sentence of over 43 years in prison.

Sirikan said Parit “wanted the world to pay some attention to the situation in Thailand – not just her case, but what’s going on right now.”

She added: “He said the world should witness his suffering and torment, which has been done by the government and the powers that be.”

This article has been edited to reflect the fact that Panusaya began his hunger strike on April 2, not April 5.

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