Thai Protest Leader Announces Hunger Strike in Jail

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2021-03-15
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Thai Protest Leader Announces Hunger Strike in Jail Thai pro-democracy activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak flashes a three-finger salute as he arrives at a Bangkok court for a hearing on Lese-Majeste charges, March 15, 2021.
Reuters

At a pretrial hearing on Monday, jailed Thai activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak said he would go on hunger strike until he and others accused of royal defamation are granted bail, his lawyer and a statement attributed to him said.

A judge, meanwhile, ruled that Parit and 21 others would stand trial together for alleged sedition and insulting the monarchy at a massive pro-democracy protest in September.

“From now on, I will announce a fast and will live on water, syrup and milk until the court returns to common sense and grants bail to me, all Lese-Majeste defendants and all political accused, until death do me part,” Parit said in a statement uploaded to a Facebook page of the protest movement he helps lead, the Ratsadon or People’s Movement.

Parit and six other pro-democracy activists accused of royal defamation under Article 112 of the Thai criminal code have been denied bail multiple times since they were indicted and jailed starting in early February.

The others are Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, Arnon Nampa, Patiwat Saraiyam and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

The charges against them and sedition charges against 15 others stem from a two-day protest in September 2020 that drew as many as 100,000 pro-democracy demonstrators.

At the time, protest leaders submitted a letter to the metropolitan police chief asking the king to accept political reform. They said they had hoped to deliver the letter to a panel of the king’s advisers, but were prevented from doing so by police.

Protesters also placed a plaque in an area of Bangkok reserved for royal ceremonies, and where the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej was cremated, stating that the country belongs to its people and not its king. The plaque was hastily removed and handed to police as “evidence.”

Parit faces 19 Lese-Majeste charges, Arnon 11, Panusaya nine and Panupong eight. A Lese-Majeste conviction carries a sentence of up to 15 years, while sedition carries a seven-year sentence.

Earlier this month, a court charged pop star-turned-activist Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan with Lese-Majeste after he allegedly set fire to a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn prior to an anti-government protest in late February.

All eight Lese-Majeste defendants are in custody while activists facing sedition and other charges have been released, according to organizers and court officials.

“Penguin wishes to let the society know that the court is not giving them the rights to be temporarily released, which is a constitutional right. He has announced in the hearing room that he will go into a hunger strike from now on and until he is given the right to bail and fight his case,” his lawyer Krisadang Nutcharas said outside the courtroom.

Following Monday’s hearing, a judge adjourned proceedings until March 29, according to Reuters.

‘Mistakes’

Pro-democracy demonstrators have issued three demands since beginning their protests in July 2020 – for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to step down, for the Constitution to be amended and for the monarchy to be reformed. Their three-fingered salute, borrowed from The Hunger Games, is a shorthand for these demands.

As of March 3, as many as 382 activists had been charged with alleged offenses stemming from the 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.

Puangthong Pawakapan, a political science assistant professor at Chulalongkorn University, said she went to the court to give moral support to those in custody.

She called on Thailand not to repeat past “mistakes” of deadly crackdowns on young activists on university campuses, citing a series of violent incidents seared onto Thai consciousness.

“Thailand’s society made several mistakes in the past by hurting our younger generations. In the incidents of Oct. 14, 1973, Oct. 6, 1976, and Black May 1992, many youths died,” Puangthong said.

All told, 175 people died and more than 1,000 were injured in those three incidents, according to official figures.

“We are making a second mistake. We are harming a new generation who I think are a group of good people,” she said.

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