Two activists who have been on a hunger strike for 44 days to press for the release of political prisoners were rushed back to hospital in critical condition on Friday evening after spending a week protesting outside the Supreme Court.
Doctors said Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan “Bam” Phuphong were at high risk of kidney failure and might not survive the night without medical intervention, according to their lawyer, Krisadang Nutcharus.
The pair had been refusing water and intravenous fluids since Thursday, in protest against the rejection of bail for one of their colleagues.
The two young women began their hunger strike on Jan 18, refusing food as well as water. As their condition deteriorated, they agreed on Jan 30 to start taking small amounts of water, and later agreed to take some intravenous vitamins and minerals to reduce the risk to their health.
The pair were being treated at Thammasat University Hospital but they discharged themselves last Friday to take their protest to the gates of the Supreme Court opposite Sanam Luang. A few dozen supporters have been staging daily activities at the site, which is festooned with protest banners.
A temporary shelter with rudimentary medical equipment was set up for the women but doctors and some supporters have been urging them to return to hospital for proper treatment. Their decision to resume their “dry” fast this week endangered their survival and they were taken back to Thammasat University Hospital. They arrived there at 7pm on Friday.
The main focus of the hunger strike has been the release of 16 people detained pending trial on charges arising from the anti-government protests that began in mid-2020. Some have had multiple requests for bail rejected, but over the past month the courts have approved the release of 13 of the detainees.
However, the hunger strikers remained adamant that they would not give up until the remaining three detainees were released. It was reported that new bail applications were being prepared but rulings could not be expected until later next week. The cases of two of the detainees are particularly problematic because they were convicted of possessing explosives following their arrest at a protest. They are seeking bail while they appeal but the courts have rejected their application several times.
In addition to the release of all political prisoners, Ms Tantawan and Ms Orawan have been calling for the abolition of the lese majeste and sedition laws and other justice reforms.
They are themselves facing charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the royal defamation law, for taking a public poll last year about royal motorcades.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 1,890 people have been 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.
Hundreds of the charges were laid under various public-order laws and the emergency decree imposed by the government during the pandemic. However, as the cases make their way through the legal system, most of them are being dismissed, with courts saying that the defendants were simply exercising their rights to free speech.
Orawan “Bam” Phuphong lies on a stretcher prior to being moved from the protest site at the Supreme Court to Thammasat University Hospital on Friday. (Photo: Ratsadon News Facebook)
Krisadang Nutcharus, a lawyer who has been representing hunger strikers “Tawan” and “Bam”, speaks with a doctor outside the Supreme Court as his clients are transferred back to hospital. (Photo: Ratsadon News Facebook)