Tawan Tuatulanon: Prisoner of Conscience  

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Thantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, 20, has been in prison for 30 days. She is the latest in a long line of pro-democracy activists who have come under legal fire in the last two years for calling for reform.

Bangkok’s criminal court denied a second bail request for the young pro-democracy activist this week.

Tawan represents an institution reform group that has been carrying out provocative street surveys on sensitive matters including taboo topics in Thai society.

The work has now put her safety and freedom in danger. 

“One of the first activities was the poll that asked people how they were impacted by motorcades,” Tawan told Thai Enquirer in April. “We hope to help the public understand what the…the root causes of political problems here are.” 

She explained that when the group planned activities, they would conduct security assessments and review the kind of charges they could face for the work.

The activists believed that they would be able to evade legal repercussions based on the legally ambiguous performance art they conducted. 

“Even the group name we discussed, and what kind of legal charges we could face for the name,” Tawan said. 

Back in March, she was charged with Section 112, or lese-majeste, for conducting a Facebook Live session. Violating royal defamation laws can mean 15 years in prison per charge, a tactic the state has continued to roll out since the Thai protests erupted in 2020. 

For many who follow the democracy movement, her views echo many other Thai youths who demand change to a system that has seen opportunity move abroad and an education system stuck in the past. Thousands of young Thais view her as a non-threatening individual who has merely gone into the public space to ask questions. 

Government critics say her arrest, and the rejection of her bail requests, is an indictment of Thailand’s judicial system. 

Despite her detention, Tawan still protests today from behind prison walls. She has been on hunger strike since April 20. Before her arrest, she claims she has been followed and harassed by undercover police on numerous occasions. 

Earlier in April, she told Thai Enquirer that harassment is not the way to respond to non-violent discourse and civil debate. 

“We are only looking to have an intellectual skirmish of ideas, a conversation between people who agree [with the institution] and those who disagree,” Tawan said.  

“We feel we must respectfully engage with both sides. We especially feel we need to engage with the police in order to understand what they think and to what extent they agree with our activities and our goals. This way we know how to resonate and communicate with them.” 

Over the last few weeks, three other women who represent Tawan’s group have also been detained without bail, including a 17-year-old girl

“For me, I want to engage in a battle of ideas,” Tawan said. “But for that to happen, we have to abolish 112.”

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