Home News Thai anti-monarchy activist dies after hunger strike

Thai anti-monarchy activist dies after hunger strike

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For Netiporn Sanesangkhom, the right to dissent and question Thailand’s powerful monarchy belongs to all Thais. Her efforts to highlight the cause ended with her death on Tuesday in the face of the country’s strict ban on royal criticism.

Ms Netiporn, also known as Bung, 28, is one of Thailand’s most prominent activists calling for changes to the monarchy. She died on January 27 after she began a hunger strike in prison to pressure Thai authorities to stop jailing political activists. On January 26, Ms Netiporn was sentenced to one month in jail for contempt of court for holding a protest last year in support of another campaigner who defamed the monarchy.

For more than two months, Ms Netipong refused food, water and all forms of medication. On April 4, she resumed her diet while in the hospital but continued to refuse electrolytes and vitamins, according to the Department of Corrections. She suffered a cardiac arrest on Tuesday and died in the morning.

Ms Netiporn’s death is likely to pose a public relations challenge for the Thai government, which has been silent on civil society demands to weaken laws criticizing the monarchy as illegitimate. The ruling Pheu Thai Party said during last year’s election that the issue must be discussed in parliament, but later backtracked and expressed firm opposition to any changes to the law.

On Tuesday, Thailand’s Justice Minister Thawee Sodsong expressed the government’s condolences over Ms Netipong’s death and said her cause of death would be investigated. He said Prime Minister Sreeta Thaveesinh had ordered “everything to be straightforward”. Mr Tawi said he would soon visit another detained hunger striker, Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon.

Five months before Ms Netiporn’s death, Thailand was applying for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The government is also negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union, which rights activists have tried to link to democratic promises.

Thailand has one of the world’s strictest laws prohibiting defaming, insulting or threatening the king and other royal members. The offense, known as Section 112, carries a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum sentence of 15 years. This is the only law in Thailand that provides for a minimum sentence.

Previously, Thai authorities limited the application of royal defamation laws to those who explicitly criticized members of the royal family’s leadership.But after protesters gathered on the streets of Bangkok to question the relevance of Thailand’s monarchy in 2020, the range of topics that constituted breaches of royal criticism laws expanded to include rubber duck calendar and crop top Because the country’s courts said the references amounted to mocking the king.

According to the Thai Lawyers Association for Human Rights, authorities have charged at least 270 people with violations of Article 112 since 2020. The organization said the prosecution rate in these cases was 100%.

Ms. Netiporn belongs to a group called Thalu Wang (“Smash the Palace”), which promotes the abolition of Article 112. Starting in January 2022, the group will conduct polls in different locations in Bangkok, asking the public about the impact of Thailand’s monarchy on people’s lives and whether it needs to change. Ms Netipong and many of her fellow activists have been charged with insulting the monarchy and inciting rebellion and have been repeatedly denied bail. This prompted Ms Netiporn and another activist to launch the first hunger strike in 2022.

But King Tharu members began taking more aggressive measures to draw attention to their cause, such as shouting at politicians and flipping tables, thereby alienating many ordinary Thai citizens.

“Wang’s strategy is one of desperation,” said Sunai Phasuk, senior Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch. “They saw that the actions taken in the last wave of political uprisings got no response. In fact, those who made demands peacefully ended up in jail. So they chose a more confrontational path.”

Local media reported that in February, Ms Netiporn drafted a will bequeathing all her cash assets, bank balances, watches, earrings and pets to Thanalop Phalanchai, known as “Yok”, her 15-year-old apprentice. Also her mentor. The youngest person charged under Section 112.

Muktita Suhartono Contributed reporting.

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