Hunger-striking Thai activists refuse treatment at prison hospital

A file photo of activists Orawan ‘Bam’ Phuphong and Tantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatulanon. Photo: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights
A file photo of activists Orawan ‘Bam’ Phuphong and Tantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatulanon. Photo: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights

Lawyers for two women accused of insulting the royal family who have fallen ill after a week-long hunger strike are petitioning the prison system to transfer them to a civilian hospital.

Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan “Bam” Phuphong are reportedly weak and ill after launching the strike days after they voluntarily asked a court to return them to prison to support others awaiting trial for allegedly defaming the royal family. 

Now they are waiting for the Corrections Department to approve their transfer to a university hospital, legal advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said this afternoon. 

They do not wish to remain at a prison-run hospital and say they want to either be returned to Bangkok’s Women’s Central Correctional Institution or a medical facility outside the prison system, such as Thammasat University Hospital.

The duo reportedly fell ill and exhausted Monday, the sixth day of their strike, which was launched to protest the pretrial detentions of critics of the monarchy, many of whom have languished in prison for months on end awaiting trial.

A file photo of activists Orawan ‘Bam’ Phuphong and Tantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatulanon. Photo: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights

Both were charged last year under the draconian law, known as lese majeste, for polling the public on their opinions of royal motorcades which snarl traffic in the capital. Those convicted under the royal defamation law face up to 15 years in prison per offense.

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Tantawan has lost almost 5 kilograms while Orawan has lost around 6 kilograms. Both are pale, have dry lips, and feel exhausted and nauseous. Tantawan also fainted in the toilet and hit her head on the floor.

Since falling ill, they have refused treatment at a facility operated by corrections because they are concerned the authorities will minimize their condition. 

Today, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre downtown to demand their release.

Orawan and Tantawan have been detained since Jan. 16, when they asked the Criminal Court to revoke their bail to call out the unusual use of pretrial detention against political activists; namely, critics of the monarchy.

Tantawan was hospitalized in serious condition in May after a 37-day hunger strike. 

The duo insist they continue the hunger strike until the authorities meet three demands: reform of the justice system, end prosecution of those exercising freedom of expression, and – most unlikely of all – broad-based political support by every party for repealing Section 112 of the Penal Code, which codifies lese majeste, as well as Section 116, or sedition. 

Sedition is another legal tool weaponized by the authorities in an attempt to quash dissent, particularly during a handful of years when lese majeste had fallen out of use before being revived under the new monarch.

Human Rights Watch has demanded the authorities immediately drop all charges and release Tantawan and Orawan.

“The Thai government should drop the unjust cases against Orawan, Tantawan, and others charged for their peaceful protests demanding reforms to the monarchy,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Holding these activists in pretrial detention for the peaceful exercise of their rights is punitive and cruel.”


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