Rights commission expresses concern about hunger strike
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Rights commission expresses concern about hunger strike

NHRC calls for all sides to seek a resolution before it's too late as two activists' health weakens

Demonstrators take part in an anti-government protest at the Thammasat University Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani on Aug 10 last year. (Photo: Reuters)
Demonstrators take part in an anti-government protest at the Thammasat University Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani on Aug 10 last year. (Photo: Reuters)

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed concern about a hunger strike by two young political activists and called on all sides to urgently find a resolution to prevent possible losses.

The commission issued a statement on Saturday as the hunger strike by Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong entered its 11th day. The two women remain in Thammasat University Hospital where their lawyers reported that they were “very weak”.

The activists have been refusing food, water and most medical intervention to press their demands for bail rights, the release of all political prisoners and the abolition of the lese majeste and sedition laws.

Thai Lawyers For Human Rights (TLHR), whose representatives have been visiting the patients daily, said one of its members went to the hospital on Saturday but Corrections Department officials refused to let them in as it was a public holiday.

The lawyer subsequently contacted a nurse for an update on the condition of Ms Tantawan, 20, and Ms Orawan, 23.

The nurse said the patients were still very weak and had stomach pain, and relied on a walker to support themselves. Test results of their blood, pulse and sugar levels were normal. They are still refusing food as well as water. They have also refused to take medicines to ease their pain and have rejected antacids, which they had been taking earlier.

A small crowd of supporters gathered outside the hospital on Saturday, holding placards outlining their demands and singing songs of encouragement.

The National Human Rights Commission, in a statement issued on Saturday, said it had been constantly following the political situation, including gatherings and activities to express political views, rallies during the Apec meetings in November, and the current hunger strike.

It called for all sides to perform their tasks according to their rights, duties and authority based on principles of human rights and respecting rights and freedoms. These include freedom of peaceful, open and unarmed assembly, freedom of expression and rights in the justice system, particularly the right to be temporarily released on bail.

“Such rights and freedoms are guaranteed under the constitution and international law on human rights recognised by Thailand,” it said.

The commission proposed that a public space be opened for exchange of views to open a way for solving the political problem in a democratic and peaceful manner. It also called on all sides to jointly and urgently find a way out before a possible loss that nobody wants to happen.

Continuing restrictions on rights and liberties, it said, could lead to increasingly violent conflicts in society that would not be good for anyone.

Ms Tantawan and Ms Orawan are facing royal defamation charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Code for taking a public poll last year about royal motorcades. They went to court on Jan 16 to request the revocation of their bail as a gesture of solidarity with other detained colleagues. They began their hunger strike two days later.

Supporters of the pair have been staging daily rallies outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. On Monday they are planning to meet there at 9am and then go to the Criminal Court to submit bail requests for political detainees.

According to TLHR, 16 people are now being held in detention pending trial or appeal on charges related to their participation in the pro-democracy movement, eight of them on royal defamation charges.

As of the end of December, the group says, at least 1,888 people were being prosecuted for political participation and expression since the first Free Youth movement rally on July 18, 2020. Of the total, at least 215 were facing charges of lese majeste and 128 were charged with sedition.

Kunthika Nutcharut, a TLHR member who has been defending the two activists and has visited them in hospital, told France24 earlier that their condition was “alarming”.

“Their main demand is that those in prison [on remand awaiting trial] be released unconditionally,” she said. “Many people in pre-trial detention are released with conditions and are then denied the right to demonstrate or express their opinion. And a Facebook post is enough to send them back to prison.”

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