Thais on hunger strike, in jail over royal defamation charges, weaken
Bangkok, Feb 2 (EFE).- Two activists jailed in Thailand for conducting a street survey on the royal family suffer from health problems as a result of a hunger strike that began two weeks ago after entering prison, their lawyers and hospital sources reported Thursday.
Orawan Phuphong, 23, and Tantawan Tuatulanon, 21, stopped eating and drinking on Jan. 18 after being arrested two days earlier after deciding to void their own bail to demand the release of other political activists and legal reforms, including the repeal of the royal defamation law.
Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code establishes penalties of between three and 15 years in prison for those who defame, insult or threaten the king, queen or crown prince, and is one of the world’s most draconian laws to protect a monarchy.
Both activists are accused under this law for carrying out an unofficial survey in a shopping center where they asked people their opinion about the convoys of the royal household, which lead to the road closures and cause large traffic jams.
Thammasat University Hospital, where they were taken on their second day of hunger strike, said in a statement Wednesday that Tantawan is suffering from nosebleeds and bleeding gums, among other conditions, while Orawan is experiencing chest and stomach pains among other problems.
Activists still refuse to eat food, but have agreed to take “sips of water,” said the hospital and the organization Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) that represent them.
The protest initiated by the activists opened a political debate, where several opposition parties demand an urgent reform of the judicial system and the conditions of preventive detention – which include the denial of bail, travel limitations and freedom of expression, among other restrictions.
The justice ministry responded Wednesday in a statement that it would create a commission to review the current preventive detention and reconsider house arrest for cases related to political expression.
TLHR denounces the increase in royal defamation cases in Thailand since November 2020, when the government resumed the application of said regulations to stifle the pro-democracy movement led by university students in court.
This movement led massive protests in mid-2020 and managed to open public debate on the role of the all-powerful Thai monarchy in today’s society, which has lost supporters among Thais in recent years.
At least 215 people, including minors, have been charged with lese majesty since November 2020, according to TLHR, while another 1,888 – including 283 minors – were charged with crimes related to protests or their political expressions. EFE