Free detained, hunger-striking Thai activists, HRW says

Bangkok, Jan 21 (EFE).- Thailand’s authorities should immediately drop charges against and release two detained young pro-democracy activists on hunger strikes as well as others, NGO Human Rights Watch urged (HRW) on Saturday.

Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong were detained on Jan. 16 after revoking their own bail in order to demand the release on bail of other political activists enduring lengthy pre-trial detentions. They also demanded 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.

HRW said the girls, both in their 20s and charged under lese majeste laws, began a hunger strike – refusing both food and water – on Jan. 18 after their return to Bangkok Central Women’s Correctional Institution, and on Friday they were transferred to the Corrections Department Hospital due to the worsening of their health.

“The Thai government should drop the unjust cases against Orawan, Tantawan, and others charged for their peaceful protests demanding reforms to the monarchy,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Holding these activists in pretrial detention for the peaceful exercise of their rights is punitive and cruel.”

Tantawan also went on a hunger strike last May protesting her right to bail after she was detained pending trial on a royal defamation charge.

Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code 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” in jail.

Holding those charged with lese majeste in pretrial detention violates their rights under international human rights law, HRW said.

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, “ostensibly because of growing criticism of the monarchy.”

The student-led protest movement produced massive demonstrations that started in mid-2020 and opened public debate on the role of the all-powerful monarchy in today’s society, a topic that had previously been taboo.

Some 200 people, including minors, have been charged with lese majeste since November 2020, according to HRW and the NGO Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. EFE


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