Two activists in Thailand released on bail after three-week hunger strike
Bangkok, Feb 7 (EFE).- A court in Thailand on Tuesday released two activists on bail who have been on a hunger strike for 20 days after they had been arrested on lèse-majesté charges for allegedly conducting a street survey on the powerful Thai royal family.
The decision to release Orawan Phuphong, 23, and Tantawan Tuatulanon, 21, came after the director of the Thammasat University hospital where they were being held said the young women’s lives were in danger, according to Thailand’s public broadcaster.
Orawan and Tantawan stopped taking food and liquids on January 18 shortly after their arrest to demand the release of other political prisoners and to call for legal reforms, including the repeal of the lèse-majesté legislation.
The law, known as Article 112, prescribes prison sentences of between 3 and 15 years for anyone who defames, insults or threatens the king, queen or crown prince, one of the most draconian royal defamation laws on the planet.
Both activists were charged under Article 112 for allegedly conducting an unofficial survey at a shopping mall about the public’s opinion of royal motorcades, which lead to road closures and cause major traffic jams in the already notoriously congested city.
Last week, Thammasat University Hospital, where they were taken on their second day of hunger strike, said Tantawan was suffering from nosebleeds and bleeding gums, among other ailments, while Orawan reported chest and stomach pains and other problems.
The activists still refused to eat food, but agreed to take “sips of water,” according to the hospital and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the organization representing them.
The protest initiated by the two activists is part of a wider debate in Thailand, where several opposition parties are calling for urgent reform of the judicial system and pre-trial detention conditions – which include denial of bail, limitation of travel and freedom of expression, among other restrictions.
TLHR has denounced the increase of lèse-majesté cases in Thailand since November 2020, when the government used the tough legislation to stifle the largely youth-led pro-democracy movement in the courts.
That movement saw unprecedented mass protests in the summer of 2020 and succeeded in kickstarting a public debate on the role of Thailand’s all-powerful monarchy, which is significantly more popular among older generations and conservative groups.
At least 215 people, including minors, have been charged under Article 112 since November 2020, according to TLHR, while another 1,888 – including 283 minors – have been charged for crimes related to the protests or political expression. EFE