Thai activists on hunger strike appeal for bail at Supreme Court

BANGKOK, 26 Feb 2023:

The two young Thai activists charged under the country’s strict royal defamation laws continued their hunger strike yesterday in front of the Supreme Court to demand bail for political prisoners.

Orawan Phuphong, 23, and Tantawan Tuatulanon, 21, stopped eating and drinking on Jan 18 – two days after they were detained after revoking their own bail – in order to demand bail for other political activists enduring lengthy pre-trial detentions.

They also demand an end to prosecution for those exercising freedom of expression, and legal and judicial reforms, including the repeal of the lese majeste and sedition laws.

Visibly weak, the pair were transferred to the court on Friday by gurneys in an ambulance after leaving the Bangkok hospital to which they had been admitted for more than a month due to the deterioration of their health.

In a letter posted to social media they said they would move to Thailand’s highest court in the capital to continue their hunger strike until those in power accept the rights of the accused and defendants in criminal cases to be granted bail during their trials.

At the court, they were received by dozens of supporters who have erected a tent equipped with air conditioning to shelter the young women, who will have their health monitored periodically.

Despite being aware of the risks to their health, they were emphatic in exercising their “right to refuse any treatment” and that in the event they cannot make decisions, their lawyers would do so on their behalf.

“No matter what happens to us, we hope there will be people who are willing to fight for the rights of the accused and suspects in political cases until they’re granted bail while on trial,” they said in the letter.

The protest of the two activists has opened a political debate in Thailand in which various opposition parties demand urgent reform of the judicial system and preventive detention conditions, which include the denial of bail, travel restrictions and freedom of expression, among other restrictions.

Holding those charged with lese majeste in pretrial detention violates their rights under international human rights law, NGO Human Rights Watch said last month.

Tantawan and Orawan were respectively charged under Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code for a Facebook live speech in front of UN buildings and conducting a public opinion poll at a shopping mall in central Bangkok about royal motorcades, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said.

Thailand has some of the harshest royal defamation laws in the world. Section 112 says that “whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”

Lese majeste cases in Thailand have “significantly increased” in the past year, HRW said, adding that in November 2020, prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha ordered the resumption of these prosecutions after a three-year hiatus.

This came amid a huge anti-government protest movement led by university students that also touched on the taboo topic of monarchical reform.

Since July 2020, at least 228 people have been accused of lese majeste, while another 1,890 – including 284 minors – have been have been prosecuted due to political participation and expression, according to TLHR.