A youth leader of Thailand’s growing pro-democracy movement has been hospitalized after 46 days on hunger strike while in pretrial detention for allegedly insulting the Thai monarchy. His declining health and a hunger strike by another detained protest leader suggest large pro-democracy demonstrations may resume, once local COVID-19 outbreaks are under control.
Thai pro-democracy protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak was hospitalized Friday April 30 after 46 days on hunger strike in pretrial detention. He is now being force fed through a tube, according to a post by Thawatchai Chaiyawat, deputy director-general of the Department of Corrections, on Facebook.
Parit and at least 16 other activists have been detained while awaiting trial for the crime of allegedly insulting Thailand’s monarchy, an offense punishable with up to 15 years in prison under the country’s infamous lese majeste law, Article 112.
Parit has refused to consume anything but liquids until the judges “return to [their] common sense” and grant him and other protest leaders bail. One of the other detained protest leaders, Panusaya “Roong” Sithijirawattanakul, has also been on hunger strike for over 30 days; both Panusaya and Parit are 22 years old.
The detained protest leaders are part of a pro-democracy movement that regained momentum last July, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister and former coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, a new or reformed constitution and reforms to the monarchy. A long string of near-daily protests began on October 14.
The number and size of protests have declined since late last year, in part due a second wave of COVID-19 in Thailand in January and a still ongoing third wave. But Parit and Panusaya’s hunger strikes and Parit’s declining health represent a significant re-escalation of the pro-democracy movement. Their continued detention will likely add momentum to the movement and prompt renewed calls for activists to be released.
Mass protests around the movement’s central demands may not come together until local COVID-19 outbreaks are under control, but the protest leaders’ continued action while behind bars could serve to rally pro-democracy groups once again. The court’s refusal to address Parit’s declining health may prove to be a costly mistake.
Court continues to deny bail
On April 29, the criminal court denied bail to Parit and the six other activists and set a new bail hearing for May 6; Parit has made at least nine requests for bail. On the day of the decision, student activists delivered a petition signed by over 11,000 people to the Criminal Court calling for their fellow activists to be released. Hashtags expressing support for Parit trended on Twitter with over 1.6 million tweets in a single day. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the court said there was no reason to change the existing ruling on the activists’ request for bail.
In response to the court’s decision, Parit’s mother, Sureerat Chiwarak, shaved her head in front of the court to protest her son’s detention and prepared to file another request for bail.
“I am just a mother who loves her child. My son did not do anything wrong, he only has a different opinion. He has not received justice,” she said.
“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,” she added.
Sureerat has questioned how the authorities will take responsibility for anything that happens to her son as his condition worsens and requests for bail are denied.
Activist’s mother, lawyers raised concerns over worsening health
The Department of Corrections had reportedly insisted that Parit’s condition was not declining. On the day he was hospitalized, the department announced he had lost 12 kilograms of weight—lawyers say that Panusaya has lost a similar amount of weight on hunger strike.
Parit told one of his lawyers, Kritsadang Nutcharat, just days before that he had found blood in his stool and was unable to sleep; Parit’s mother told reporters he said he was unable to walk without help and was having heart palpitations.
Lawyers had also requested that the court allow Parit to be treated at a fully-equipped hospital outside the prison but the request was denied.
The lawyers for the activists also say they should be let out on bail because of the increasing risk of COVID-19 infection. Outbreaks have occured at multiple prisons in Thailand in recent months, often with officials suddenly reporting the detection of dozens of cases at once.
When Parit began his hunger strike, he read a statement to the court calling Article 112 “a law that is cruel, uncivilized, and backward” and saying that the hardship of his hunger strike “is a testimony to the injustice that has occurred, a spark that pricks your conscience and serves as proof that the truth is not afraid of any suffering whatsoever.”
The other protestors detained on lese majeste accusations include Chukiat Sangwong, Anon Nampa, Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, Parinya “Fort” Cheewinkulpatom, Panupong Jadnok, Piyarat Chongthep and Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, among others.