PM wants answers about activist’s death
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PM wants answers about activist’s death

Srettha says justice minister will look into treatment of political detainees; corrections officials in hot seat

Activist Netiporn “Boong” Sanesangkhom died on Tuesday at Thammasat University Hospital from the effects of a prolonged hunger strike. (Photo: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Center)
Activist Netiporn “Boong” Sanesangkhom died on Tuesday at Thammasat University Hospital from the effects of a prolonged hunger strike. (Photo: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Center)

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Wednesday expressed his deep sorrow for the death of political activist Netiporn “Boong” Sanesangkhom, and vowed to ensure transparency and justice.

Mr Srettha extended his condolences to the family of the 28-year-old activist and said he had ordered the Justice Ministry to investigate the circumstances surrounding her death.

Her passing on Tuesday has raised questions about the treatment of detainees by the Department of Corrections (DoC) in comparison with that of paroled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

It has also reignited calls for justice reform and drawn attention to two other political activists — Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Natthanon “Frank” Chaimahabud — who have also been staging a hunger strike for bail rights and the release of political detainees.

Tantawan was in the same prison hospital ward as Netiporn when the latter suffered the cardiac arrest that led to her death. Prison authorities transferred Tantawan to Thammasat University Hospital on Wednesday afternoon for treatment of stress and depression from the events of the previous day.

According to the Department of Corrections, Netiporn suffered a heart attack at the Central Correctional Hospital just after 6am on Tuesday. Despite resuscitation attempts and emergency care at Thammasat University Hospital, she was pronounced dead at 11.22am.

Netiporn, who went on a hunger strike on Jan 27 to protest against the detention of political activists, had started eating and drinking normally in early April, according to corrections officials.

But she was suffering from weakness and slightly swollen legs due to pre-existing anaemia and vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which worsened with her hunger strike. She continued to refuse to take supplements and medication to treat these conditions, the DoC said.

Netiporn, a leader of the Thalu Wang protest group, is the first activist to die in custody since the outbreak of youth-led protests in 2020 calling for reform of the monarchy.

She was among 272 people who have been charged with royal defamation under Section 112 of the Criminal Code since 2020, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

Asked about growing calls for the release of other young activists, Mr Srettha said Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong had heard the demand and was expected to discuss it with agencies in the justice system.

Double standards

Former red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan on Wednesday blamed Netiporn’s death on double standards, noting the discrepancy between the treatment of Netiporn and Thaksin.

The young activist was resolute in her hunger protest and should have been placed under close supervision, he said, noting her case was in stark contrast to that of Thaksin.

The billionaire ex-premier never spent a single night behind bars after his conviction last August for abuse of power and conflict of interest while in office from 2001-06. He was transferred to the Police General Hospital within hours of arriving at prison. He then spent the next six months in a VIP ward on the hospital’s 14th floor before being granted parole.

Mr Jatuporn observed that the department was quick to use its judgement to transfer the former prime minister to the Police General Hospital on the first night of his detention.

He said the Pheu Thai Party also highlighted suspects’ rights to be granted bail during the election campaign last year but failed to take action after assuming power.

“Had Boong received similar care and treatment the way Thaksin did, she would have lived,” he said.

The Srettha administration should be held responsible for Netiporn’s death due to the inequality in treatment, he said, adding that if the government failed to address the issue, it would deepen conflict and divisions.

Thalu Wang posted a notice on its Facebook page that prayers for Netiporn and cremation would take place from Thursday through Sunday at Wat Suthapot in Lat Krabang district. (Story continues below)

Netiporn Sanesangkhom (centre, holding laptop) poses for photographs with members of the Bad Student group during a protest against the government in Bangkok on Sept 19, 2020. Netiporn died in custody on Tuesday after she had been on a partial hunger strike during her pre-trial detention on charges including insulting the monarchy. (Reuters File Photo)

Lawyer has questions

Krisadang Nutcharus, a lawyer with TLHR, on Wednesday questioned the handling of his former client’s case when he arrived at Thammasat University Hospital to observe the post-mortem examination.

He asked if Netiporn was properly cared for while she was being detained and if the Central Correctional Hospital was capable of providing care to patients.

“I’m calling on the justice minister to investigate. Death is a normal aspect of life but if it can be prevented, it reflects [double] standards on the government’s part,” he said.

The National Human Rights Commission also called for an investigation to ensure transparency and urged the relevant state agencies to step up efforts to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy.

The DoC, meanwhile, defended its handling of Netiporn, saying she had been closely monitored and cared for by medical staff. A committee would investigate the circumstances surrounding her death, and details of the autopsy would be provided, it said.

She started to take some soft food in early April but refused to take vitamins and minerals, although she was not in a critical condition prior to her death, officials said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“Her vital signs were normal, everything was normal until the emergency,” said Pongpak Areeyapinan, director of the prison hospital.

Complete results of the autopsy are not expected for four to six weeks.

‘Wake-up call’

The death of Netiporn, a judge’s daughter and former tutor, has made headlines around the world. Amnesty International said it was a “wake-up call” for Thai authorities to examine their policies.

“This is a shocking reminder that Thai authorities are harshly denying pro-democracy activists their freedom in an apparent bid to silence the peaceful expression of dissent,” said Piyanut Kotsan, director of Amnesty International Thailand. “Many are currently detained, with their right to temporary release on bail denied.”

According to TLHR, since the beginning of 2024, bail requests for 27 political activists in pre-trial detention, including 17 charged with lese majeste, have been rejected by the courts.

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