Human rights groups, lawyers, call for release of Thai political prisoners

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As authorities increasingly target reform activists with judicial harassment, surveillance, and intimidation, human rights groups are demanding the release of political prisoners. 

“The lengthened pre-trial detention of Tawan and other activists is brutal and shows Thailand’s disregard of human rights and fair trial standards,” Sunai Phasuk, Senior Thailand researcher, Human Rights Watch told Thai Enquirer on Monday.

Thantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatalonon, 20, and other activists have been arrested in recent weeks on a range of legal charges, including violating Section 112, or ‘lese majeste’.

In Thailand, violating royal defamation laws can result in 15 year prison sentences for each charge.

Tawan is not the only activist under arrest, others include, Nutthanit “Bai Por” Duangmusit, Netiporn “Pakbung” Sanesangkhom, and Sophon ‘Get’ Surariddhidhamrong. 

The young activists are affiliated with pro-democracy groups like ‘Thaluwang’ and ‘Draconis Revolution,’ new organizations that have sprung in replace of the street protests of 2020-2021. Members of the groups have taken provocative new steps to confront the country’s conservative institution, often using publicity stunts, performance art, and other forms of public messaging to provoke thought. But in response, authorities have cracked down on the majority of the group’s members in sweeping arrests since early April.

Tawan’s bail requests have been repeatedly denied. In protest, she has been on hunger strike since April 20. Human rights groups and lawyers representing the activists are concerned that Tawan’s health is deteriorating behind bars.

They request that she receive access to health care immediately.

“Tawan has been on hunger strike for 33 days now to protest such unjust and unwarranted treatment. This is a display of Tawan’s bravery and commitment to civil disobedience to resist abusive authoritarian powers,” Sunai said.

The corrections department has reportedly dismissed concerns over Tawan’s deteriorating health condition. According to her lawyers, Tawan has not eaten for over 34 days.

Kunthika Nutcharut, an attorney for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) who is working on Tawan’s case, told Thai Enquirer that Tawan’s condition is deteriorating.

“We sent someone to visit her yesterday, but as of yesterday, she has been getting worse,” Kunthika said. “When I saw her last, her spirit was very strong, she did not complain about anything, and only asked about the well-being of other political prisoners.”

Kunthika said that Tawan has lost at least five kilos since she has been on hunger strike. She is also experiencing bleeding of her gums, suffers from nausea, and reportedly cannot walk on her own. Tawan hopes to write a letter to those who support her on the outside, but TLHR noted that at this time, she does not have the strength to write anything down. 

“But she’s still very strong in spirit,” Kunthika said.

Over the last year, multiple democracy activists have become ill under similar circumstances while in pre-trial detention.

Anon Nampha, a human rights lawyer and one of the first to call for monarchy reform, fell ill last year while also in pre-trial detention. Panupong ‘Mike’ Jadnok contracted COVID-19 as he languished in prison last year. Prominent activist, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, was also hospitalized after she became extremely ill while in prison from a hunger fast in December. Eventually authorities allowed her to receive medical assistance and she recovered.

But despite a pattern of activists falling ill in prison, Sunai, the Human Rights Watch researcher, said the government and judiciary system have continued to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” tactic to handle these kinds of cases, often ignoring their medical conditions. He explained that the state believes that those who support the reform movement will eventually dissipate from public attention if they are held in prison.

It’s a view shared by many others in Thailand’s human rights space. 

“Thailand increasingly uses judicial harassment against activists, especially youth calling for reform, all kinds of reform, but in particular groups calling for reform of the institution,”  Pornpen Khongkanchankiet, the director of Cross Cultural Foundation, told Thai Enquirer.

“You saw this with Anon, Rung, and others who have already been harassed by the judicial system. They were arrested, charged, detained, bailed, and then rearrested again. All of this is to silence activists.”

Pornpen noted that the detention without a guilty verdict and hefty bail fees amount to a violation of human rights. But she believes Tawan’s activism is one step forward for the movement in unveiling the government’s problematic response to those who disagree with the status quo. 


“Tawan and others like her are sacrificing themselves to conduct an autopsy on our judicial system,” Pornpen said. “And it’s showing something ugly, something primitive, uncivilized. So now they are sacrificing themselves to show the international community, and the elder generation, this broken system. And then we must grapple with this question; how are we going to deal with this?”

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