05/14/2024, 15.46
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Thai activist jailed for lèse-majesté dies after hunger strike

by Steve Suwannarat

Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom, 28, died in hospital after her conditions took a turn for the worse. She had become a symbol for international advocacy groups, cited as evidence of abuses in Western government reports. Nearly 2,000 people are being prosecuted for crimes of opinion, with hundreds facing heavy prison sentences.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Jailed activist Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom, 28, died this morning at the Thammasat University hospital three months after she went on a hunger strike to protest the detention of people for political reasons and extended pre-trial custody.

Several international organisations, including Amnesty International, had adopted Netiporn as a prisoner of conscience – she was a member of a group called "Thaluwang” advocating on behalf of civil liberties and prisoners' rights.

She was cited in several reports concerning Thailand, a country "under observation" by the United States and the European Union.

She went on a dry hunger strike at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution where she was detained on January 26, after her bail was revoked on charges of lèse-majesté in connection with a public poll, she participated in February 2022 on royal motorcades that disrupt regular traffic.

Adamant in refusing food and liquids, the activist was first transferred to a prison hospital and then to the Thammasat University Hospital, before she was taken back to her cell where, according to the prison administration, she resumed regular eating.

For groups that followed her case, including Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Netiporn returned to the prison hospital in early April but by then her health had considerably deteriorated.

This morning, she was back in hospital after she suffered a heart attack but the move was useless, as the activist died at 11.22 local time (5.22 am GMT).

Immediate expressions of solidarity and condolences came from opposition politicians and representatives of civil society groups, as well as activists who backed her cause, like Natthanon "Frank" Chaimahabud and Tantawan "Tawan" Tuatulanon, or others who went on hunger strikes themselves.

Her story has kept public attention focused on Thailand’s Lèse-majesté law, which has been criticised for the way it has been implemented; rather than protecting the dignity of the royal family, it seems aimed at prosecuting those who disagree with the country’s military and civilian rulers or demand more openness for critical debate.

According to a recent report by TLHR, 1,954 people have been prosecuted for political reasons, 272 charged for insulting the monarchy under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, better known as the lèse-majesté law, while accusations were made against another 153 under 116 of the same code.

Netiporn’s tragic end highlights the heavy-handedness in detaining people before they are convicted, particularly in political cases, and the arbitrariness of the way bail is granted.

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