Thailand: Jailed protest leaders in deteriorating health after hunger strike


Two protest leaders in Thailand, currently in prison for demanding reform of the monarchy, are in deteriorating health conditions after spending up to six weeks on hunger strike, their lawyers have said.

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, 23, had fatigue, constant dizziness and was unable to stand, his lawyer said. Parit began a hunger strike on March 15 to protest against his pre-trial detention.

Another key figure in the protest movement, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, 22, has been on hunger strike since April 02. She had experienced numbness but had since taken rehydration drinks, her lawyer, Sirikan Charoensiri said.

The two student leaders are facing multiple charges under Thailand’s lese-majeste law following their role in the unprecedented mass protests last year, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to call for reforms to the country’s monarchy.

Protesters, many of them young students, have demanded a more accountable and transparent royal family, which they say should not interfere in politics.

They have also called for the monarchy budget to be reduced, for the king’s private wealth to be separated from the crown wealth, and for the king to relinquish control of some army regiments.

The disappearance or deaths of monarchy critics should be investigated, they say, and the law banning criticism of the royal family should be scrapped.

Parit faces 20 charges under the lese- majeste law, which could result in a sentence of 300 years. Panusaya faces nine cases under the law, which could lead to a 135-year sentence if convicted.

Parit’s lawyer, Kritsadang Nutcharat, said he had a video call with his client on Wednesday and was very concerned about his health. “I could see he was fainting all the time. His voice was low and tired. He couldn’t stand up by himself because he would collapse”.

The Department of Corrections said in a statement that Parit’s condition remained normal and he was “only showing symptoms of fatigue from hunger strike”. The department said it had prepared a medical team to monitor his condition and was ready to send him to the prison hospital if necessary.

Panusaya’s condition “remains normal and shows no fatigue from hunger”, the statement said.

Since July last year, at least 581 people have been charged in connection with political activities related to the protests, such as taking part in rallies or posting supportive comments on social media, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

At least 82 people face cases under Thailand’s lese-majeste law, which states that anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir apparent or regent” can face up to 15 years on each charge.

UN rights experts have previously said such laws “have no place in a democratic country”.

Kritsadang will request bail for Parit again on Thursday afternoon, but said he did not expect it would be granted. He had lost faith in the legal system, he said, having had multiple previous applications refused.

“I’ve used all the legal knowledge that I’ve studied and practised for years,” Kritsadang said, adding that other prominent legal experts had also commented that bail should be granted.

At least 17 people charged in relation to the protests are in pre-trial detention after the courts rejected requests for bail. (Source: The Guardian)