Thai Court Grants Bail to Pro-Democracy Activist on Hunger Strike

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Thai Court Grants Bail to Pro-Democracy Activist on Hunger Strike Thai pro-democracy activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who has been on a hunger strike since March 15, flashes a three-finger salute from an ambulance as he is released on bail in Bangkok, May 11, 2021.

A Thai court on Tuesday freed on bail two Thai pro-democracy activists charged with royal defamation, including Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who has been on a weeks-long hunger strike to protest being denied bail 10 times since his February arrest.

The court also released Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, who was arrested in March for allegedly burning a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in front of a jail during an anti-government protest. A bail hearing for a third activist, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, also charged with defaming the monarchy, was delayed as they were waiting for results of his COVID-19 test, authorities said.

“The court examined the evidence at the hearing for a temporary release of Parit and Chaiamorn and considered that the circumstances of the cases have changed. Therefore, the court granted a temporary release of Parit and Chaiamorn,” the Criminal Court in Bangkok said in a statement, without elaborating on how the situation had changed.

Parit had been sent to a hospital on April 30, where he was force fed through a tube, the corrections department had said. At that time, his weight had dropped from 107 kg (236 lbs.) to 94.5 kg (208 lbs.), Thawatchai Chaiyawat, deputy director-general of the Department of Corrections, had said in a Facebook post.

After they were released from jail around 9:30 p.m., Parit and Chaiamorn flashed three-finger salutes to supporters who had gathered outside the prison. Parit’s family took him to Vibhavadi Hospital for treatment.

The three-finger salutes, borrowed from The Hunger Games movies, is a symbol of protesters’ demands that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha step down, that the Constitution be amended and that the monarchy be reformed. Since pro-democracy protesters first gathered in mid-July 2020, rallies have been held in Bangkok and across the nation as thousands have called for the three reforms.

Parit and Chaiamorn did not speak to reporters after their release, but Parit’s sister addressed the media.

“I'm glad that we get to be together after all. I think that we will not stop fighting,” Ploywarin Chiwarak told reporters.

“We have to keep fighting until the day we get democracy.”

Meanwhile, the court said Panupong tested negative for COVID-19 on May 6, but he had been tested again and results were awaited.

Kritsadang Nutcharat, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), said the court allowed Parit to be released on 400,000 baht (U.S. $12,830) bail. Chaiamorn was allowed to be released on 250,000 baht ($8,000) bail. Neither the lawyer nor the court released details about who paid for their release.

Under bail terms, neither man can defame the monarchy or participate in protests. They also cannot leave the country and must wear electronic monitoring bracelets.

On April 30, Parit’s mother, Sureerat Chiwarak, shaved her head in front of the Criminal Court building in Bangkok after judges again turned down her request that Parit be released on bail on humanitarian grounds. Parit had been on hunger strike since March 15.

During that day’s hearing, TLHR attorneys said Sureerat offered to pay 200,000 baht ($6,400) for her son to be granted bail so he could get hospital treatment.

The court rejected that offer and sent Parit to Ramathibodi Hospital for treatment.

“My son is sacrificing what he loves and I am letting go of something that I love as well. I will start with shaving my hair,” Sureerat told reporters at the time.

“When the people see me walking around with a bald head, which may be ugly, please know that this injustice is happening in Thailand and it is even uglier than this.”

Parit, Panupong and five other pro-democracy activists, are accused of violating the strict royal defamation law during a two-day protest in September 2020.  Royal defamation, or Lese-Majeste, carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years per count.

At the time, protest leaders submitted a letter to the metropolitan police chief asking the king to accept political reform. They also placed a plaque in an area of Bangkok reserved for royal ceremonies.

March incident

Chaiamorn, a pop-star turned activist, was charged with Lese-Majeste, for an incident in late February, police and a lawyers’ group had said.

Local media showed Chaiamorn falling after climbing a scaffolding in front of Klong Prem Central Prison while holding a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X), as he called for the release of Parit and three other protest leaders.

“The arson of the king’s portrait was my work and I assume sole responsibility. It has nothing to do with any movements,” Chaiamorn said in an Instagram posting at the time.

Parit and Chaiamorn join other pro-democracy leaders to be released on bail in recent weeks.

Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, who also began a hunger strike late in March on Lese-Majeste charges stemming from the September protest, was released on bail on May 6.

Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk were released on bail on April 23 after the court ruled there was no sufficient reason to deny their request. Like the others, Jatupat and Somyot were charged with violating Article 112 – Lese-Majeste – at the September rally.

As of March 3, as many as 382 activists had been charged with alleged offenses stemming from the pro-democracy protests, according to TLHR. In addition, at least 68 protesters had been charged with Lese-Majeste since Prayuth announced in November that authorities would begin enforcing that law for the first time in about two years.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.