Hunger strikers vow to carry on
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Hunger strikers vow to carry on

Two political prisoners freed on bail but fast will continue until all others are released, say women

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

Two young men detained on royal defamation charges have been granted bail, but activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong have vowed to continue their hunger strike until every political prisoner is released.

Lawyer Kritsadang Nutcharat relayed his clients’ decision at a news conference on Saturday outside Thammasat University Hospital where the two young women are being treated along with a third hunger striker, Sitthichok Sethasavet.

The conference had drawn a large crowd of reporters amid speculation that Ms Tantawan and Ms Orawan were preparing to end their fast, which has left them severely weakened.

The women’s parents were in attendance but were not allowed to visit their daughters because it was the weekend. Mr Kritsadang told reporters that the minister of justice had said earlier that an exception would be made for the families but that Pongsawat Kaiarunsut, the ministry’s permanent secretary, had denied the request.

Ms Orawan’s father said the parents weren’t sure if their children would be able to endure until Monday. “Don’t let the future of the nation sacrifice itself like this,” he said.

The lawyer said his clients had made their decision to keep fasting based on their intentions. “It’s a decisive decision. It neither hurts anyone nor puts pressure on anyone,” he said.

Aukit Santiprasitkul, 23, a law student at Ramkhamhaeng University, was granted bail on Saturday. He had been in detention pending appeal since Dec 21 after the Criminal Court found him guilty of royal defamation for sharing Facebook posts and sentenced him to a total of seven years and six months in prison.

On Friday, the court granted bail to a 28-year-old bar employee identified only as “Ake”. He had been detained since Dec 22 pending trial on a charge under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law, for sharing a Facebook post commenting on the royal institution.

With the release of the two men, 19 people remain detained in politically related cases, according to data gathered by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). Thirteen are awaiting trial while six have been convicted and some are appealing.

The three activists, meanwhile, are now in the third week of their hunger strike. They had gone without food and water for the first 10 days of their fast but were persuaded to start taking small amounts of water as concerns grew for their health.

The hunger strikers are demanding the right to bail, the release of all political prisoners and the abolition of the lese majeste and sedition laws.

Ms Tantawan and Ms Orawan are facing royal defamation charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Court 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 on Jan 18 and have been in Thammasat University Hospital for the past 11 days.

Dr Thosaporn Seereerak said the two women were in critical condition as their potassium levels were low, which could cause the heart to beat irregularly or even stop.

He also expressed concern that as the kidneys tried to retain water, toxic substances would accumulate in the body and this would affect the brain and other organs.

In a statement on Saturday, the hospital said Ms Tantawan was drinking more water but still suffered from fatigue, dry mouth and bleeding from the gums, for which it recommended a vitamin C supplement. Ms Orawan was also drinking water but reported fatigue, dry mouth, burning sensations and air in the abdomen. The hospital has recommended that the patients take mineral salts with water to reduce acidity in the blood, which is leading to increased muscle wasting.

Mr Sitthichok, also in Thammasat University Hospital, began his hunger strike in Bangkok Remand Prison where he was being held while he appeals a conviction on Jan 17 for lese majeste charge and other charges.

An update on Mr Sitthichok’s condition was not immediately available. He continues to refuse food but has agreed to drink water and take vitamins, his lawyer said earlier.

As of the end of January, TLHR said it had recorded 1,890 people prosecuted for political participation and expression since the beginning of the Free Youth pro-democracy protests in July 2020. At least 228 are facing lese majeste (royal defamation) charges and 128 have been charged with sedition.

Of all the people charged, 284 are aged 15 to 18 years and 41 are under 15 years old.

The youngest person accused of lese majeste is a 14-year-old girl who took part in a demonstration in October last year. Police from the Samran Rat station in Bangkok issued a summons on Feb 2 for her to acknowledge a charge of violating Section 112, but she has yet to report.

The longest detention period that the group knows of reached 300 days as of Saturday for two men.

On Friday, Sorawit Limparangsi, a spokesman for the Court of Justice, said a review by the court showed that the issuance of warrants of detention or granting of temporary release were decided by judges without any interference.

On the same day, a network of health workers called for the unconditional release of all detained political prisoners as they expressed worry over the condition of the hunger-strikers.

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