Hunger strike tragedy
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Hunger strike tragedy

The death of 28-year-old political activist Netiporn Saneysangkhom in a correctional hospital on Tuesday after a three-month-long hunger strike is a stark reminder of the growing ideological differences dividing the country.

Known as "Boong Thalu Wang", she led the Thalu Wang Group, which is made up of firebrand political activists who have campaigned for monarchy reform and amending Section 112, otherwise known as the lese majeste law.

Netiporn herself faced a lese majeste charge for participating in an opinion survey on royal motorcades in February 2022. Her request for bail was denied as the judge feared she would flee, with her bail revocation being connected to a protest she staged at the Ministry of Culture on Aug 6, 2023.

After being imprisoned in January, she began a hunger strike to protest the imprisonment of those prosecuted for political cases, and she refused medical treatment as her health worsened.

Netiporn was one of 262 people facing lese majeste charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, and 138 have been charged with sedition under Section 116. Nine cases under Section 116 came before the courts in December, all of which were dismissed, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). As of April 30 this year, 1,954 people have been prosecuted for political participation and expression since the beginning of the Free Youth protests in July 2020.

Lese majeste is a serious crime in the country, and the courts sometimes do not grant bail for those who are likely to repeat similar actions or challenge the justice system while outside, like Netiporn.

But such rigid approaches will eventually backfire on the justice system and the institution of the monarchy that the lese majeste law has been used to protect.

The comments over her death have shown how polarised and extreme Thai society has become. But no matter what the ideological differences are, it is clear that the justice system does not know how to deal with prisoners of conscience, especially headstrong ones like Netiporn.

On Tuesday, like-minded activists called for the court to grant bail to all political activists who face political-related charges, and their requests are worth listening to.

As Thailand strives to be an open society, laws and the justice system must adapt, especially regarding younger generations, who think and behave differently.

Netiporn's fate also raises questions about the practices of the Department of Corrections, and a probe into her death must be launched for transparency.

It is reported that Netiporn was moved to the Central Correctional Hospital in early February and then sent to Thammasat University Hospital for more treatment before being transferred back to the prison hospital.

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Corrections said that after Netiporn returned to the prison hospital, she started taking food and water normally until she suffered a cardiac arrest. All this raises questions.

Currently, two of Netiporn's fellow activists -- Natthanon "Frank" Chaimahabud and Tantawan "Tawan" Tuatulanon -- continue their hunger strikes, though they reportedly have been accepting some liquids and medications.

The department must take good care of them and make sure similar tragedies are not repeated. That said, the onus falls on our courts to make decisions on such matters that benefit a democratic society.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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