Eight human rights and democracy organisations submitted an open letter to the president of the Supreme Court on Thursday asking it to release detained political activists and to review court regulations on bail conditions.
The move came as three detained activists continued to weaken as a result of a hunger strike they have been staging to press for the release on bail of political prisoners.
Prakaidao Phurksakasemsuk, manager of the Cross-Cultural Foundation, said there were 16 political prisoners as of Jan 19, eight of whom had been prosecuted under the lese majeste law while the rest are awaiting trial.
Human rights lawyer Somchai Homlaor said pre-trial detention should be reserved for repeat offenders or those charged with serious crimes such as murder. Also, suspects should not be treated as convicts until their cases are finalised.
“These activists do not have the power to threaten their accuser or interfere with evidence,” he told a forum held before the groups visited the Supreme Court.
Sunee Chaiyarot, a former national human rights commissioner, said the hunger strike by Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong had successfully drawn attention from the public. However, she said the process of legal system reform has started and she wished that the two young activists would live to see the change.
“The lese majeste law allows any plaintiff to file charges against activists without particular criteria. Normally, only people who were offended can file defamation charges against defendants. The lese majeste law has, therefore, become a political case that needs to be fixed,” said Ms Sunee.
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.
They are currently in Thammasat University Hospital where they are refusing food and most medical intervention, though they have agreed in recent days to take small amounts of water at the urging of doctors.
However, a lawyer who visited them on Thursday said the women were dizzy and complained of blurred vision, severe stomach aches and muscle pain. Ms Tantawan had bleeding from the gums.
A hospital statement said the women were experiencing dry mouth, shortness of breath, low urination from dehydration, insomnia and other symptoms, but their vital signs were otherwise within acceptable ranges.
Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, a prominent pro-democracy activist who staged a hunger strike while being held in pre-trial detention earlier, wrote an open letter this week asking Ms Tantawan and Ms Orawan to reconsider.
“We need to save our lives and souls for fighting in the long run too,” he wrote.
Also in Thammasat University Hospital is Sitthichok Sethasavet, who began his hunger strike in Bangkok Remand Prison where he was being held while he appeals a conviction on Jan 17 for lese majeste and other charges.
His lawyer said Sitthichok was still refusing food but had accepted doctors’ advice to take vitamins intravenously, sip water and drink milk to keep up his strength.
All three hunger strikers are demanding the right to bail, the release of all political prisoners and the abolition of the lese majeste and sedition laws.
Over the past two years, 228 people have been charged with lese majeste, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), which has represented many of those accused of royal insults.
In a related development, the Criminal Court on Wednesday agreed to the request of five anti-government protesters to have electronic monitoring (EM) tags removed.
The protesters, who are currently out on bail pending trials on lese majeste and sedition charges, made their request after the court ordered a monitoring anklet removed from actress Savika “Pinky” Chaiyadech, who is facing a trial on fraud charges in connection with the Forex 3-D Ponzi scheme.
The five protesters who received approval to remove their devices are Chonthicha Jaengrew, Panupong Jadnok, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, Weha Saenchonchanasuek and Nawapon Ton-ngam.
The Ministry of Justice, meanwhile, has said that a commission would be set up to review current pre-trial detention norms and reconsider house arrest for some political cases.