Hunger strikers resolute but health deteriorates

6 02 2023

Activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong, who are undergoing a hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners and judicial reform are in danger (see below).

Prachatai reports that on Saturday, the two vowed to continue their fast. In that report, Krisadang Nutcharus, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), said that:

he and the two activists’ parents met Tantawan and Orawan on Friday (3 February), and reported that they were alert and were able to hold a conversation. Krisadang said he informed Tantawan and Orawan that the National Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Justice have issued a joint statement promising reform of the judicial system, while several political parties have agreed to discuss issues related to the royal defamation law [Article 112] and sedition law in parliament. He also told them that the Court of Justice held a press conference on bail on that Friday (3 February), and read them the press release, which Tantawan and Orawan said did nothing and said nothing.

Krisadang said that he also told them that many activists have been allowed to take off their monitoring bracelets, and that the court is considering bail requests for many political prisoners. Nevertheless, the two activists said they will continue with their hunger strike until every political prisoner is released and asked TLHR to post bail for everyone still detained again on Monday (6 February).

“[Tantawan and Orawan] believe that, the Ministry of Justice, the National Human Rights Commission or political parties tend to listen to the people,” Krisadang said, “… but the court has never listened. They have asked me to tell you that they will continue their hunger strike, but they are not trying to pressure the court. They wanted to prove whether what the court spokesperson said, that the court uses human rights principles when ruling on cases was true.”

The report also notes that Orawan’s father Suchart Phuphong said:

the medical team told him to wait until Monday to be told what can be done, but he said that Orawan’s condition is considered critical to her parents although her doctors say they need to keep monitoring her, and that they are concerned that she may not make it to Monday.

Suchart called on the powers that be to have sympathy when someone is using a method the two activists are using to demand the rights Thai people should already have, and to keep someone who is the nation’s future healthy and strong.

Later, Prachatai has tweeted:

Parents of hunger striking activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong have been contacted by their doctors, who said that they have gotten worse and asked that the families and lawyers visit them tomorrow morning {Monday].#ตะวันแบม

More on 112 charge for 14 year-old

5 02 2023

Oddly enough, it is Thaiger and the Laotian Times that have picked up the case of the 14 year-old girl – the youngest ever – charged with lese majeste. Here’s what Thaiger reported about the royalist  vigilante-inspired charge:

Thai police summoned a 14 year old girl to a police station for questioning after an ultra-royalist accused her of royal defamation, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

She is the youngest person ever to be charged with royal defamation, also called lèse-majesté.

Arnon Klinkaew, a core member of an ultra-royalist group, accused the child of violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code over her alleged involvement in a protest at the Giant Swing in Bangkok on October 13, 2022.

 The legal summons from Samran Rat Police Station in Bangkok was dated January 23, 2023….

 Arnon accused the high schooler of attending the protest at the Giant Swing near Bangkok City Hall on October 13 and participating in the writing of a placard calling for the abolition of Section 112.

 Thai Rath reports that a lot of people attended the protest, where the media and police were also present. Undercover police officers allegedly joined the protest to take photos and film demonstrators….

Pushing forward on 112

2 02 2023

Those who have opposed the hunger strike by Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong in favor of glacial change (maybe) might be scratching their heads as the regime realizes that the hunger strikers – now four and with a third taken to hospital – are a threat, especially as an election looms (maybe).

The Move Forward Party is also pushing for the regime to get off its collective fat butt as it “renewed calls for bail to be granted to political detainees…”. Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat “lodged a motion requesting a debate on what he described as the urgent need for Thailand to strictly follow the international principle of the presumption of innocence.” He’s implying that 112 suspects are presumed guilty.

The regime has moved. Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin finally suggested that a response is possible. Thai Newsroom reports:

Somsak who yesterday visited the hunger strikers at the hospital vowed to take his part in averting sort of a political crisis and to see to it that bail will be finally granted by court for the political detainees, most of whom being adolescents, whilst those who may not be given bail could probably be held in house arrest in lieu of jail.

According to the justice minister, EM bracelets might no longer be used with such a type of detainee after they have been released under bail or probably put in house arrest.

Somsak also confirmed that the authorities will consider amending laws and regulations pertaining to the judicial process applicable to lese majeste and sedition cases but stopped short of elaborating.

Responding to the opposition he said: “It touched me deeply that young persons are so determined to risk their lives…”. It is reported:

Somsak said his ministry will hold talks with the National Human Rights Commission and related agencies to address problems in justice system, especially when it comes to granting bail to those awaiting trial. The ministry will also set up a fund to help those who cannot afford bail, he added.

Small but necessary steps.

Puea Thai and lese majeste

31 01 2023

Reuters reports that activists have been pressuring the Puea Thai Party to develop a spine on Article 112.

The report notes how draconian the law is and notes that it “has long been a taboo topic in Thailand…”. Depending on how “long” is defined, that is not entirely accurate, at least according to historians of lese majeste.. Reuters is correct that “calls for it [112] to be reformed have also led to arrests.” That may seem absurd, but in royalist Thailand it is “normal.”

The eight activists who met “with the Pheu Thai party … said scrapping Article 112 must be a priority.”

Activist Somyos Prueksakasemsuk said he believed that revoking 112 is an electoral asset.

Naturally enough, “[a]ll 17 ruling coalition parties have vowed not to touch the law, while the ultra royalist Thai Pakdee party has started a petition to make it even stricter.”

Following the meeting, it was stated that “Pheu Thai gave no firm answer on abolishing article 112.” Party secretary-general, Prasert Jantararuangtong, however, “encouraged public discussion on the way it was being enforced as a means of addressing problems in the short term.” He warned: “There are many opinions and polarised views in society on the amendment of this law, which could lead to more conflict…”.

And, while the military remains resolutely royalist, Puea Thai knows that there always the threat of the royalist coup. No doubt they also know that the palace has learned that the law is necessary to maintain the luxury, taxpayer supported lifestyles of royals. They also know that the king covets the political power he has accrued in recent constitutional and administrative changes.

The fact remains, that without pressure from activists (and political parties), royalist feudalism will continue to dominate and smother modern Thailand.

Updated: LM is just alright, oh yeah

30 01 2023

We read this from Pravit Rojanaphruk and were dismayed. Pravit writes of the hunger strike by Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong. He states:

The two young activists issued three lofty demands: justice system reform, release of all political prisoners, and for all political parties to call for the abolition of both the lese majeste and sedition laws.

Ten days have passed and none of their demands have been met. Yet as of press time, they insist on continuing their hunger strike, adamant that, if need be, they are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause they believe in.

He continues, pleading:

Time is of the essence and people who have good ties with the two and their respect should immediately meet them at the hospital to try to convince them that their demands will most unlikely be met in the foreseeable future and they should end the hunger strike and carry on a fight in a more protracted manner.

And he opines:

It may take many years, no, decades more, but we cannot expect Thai society to produce an immediate consensus particularly on the status of the lese majeste law by having someone threaten to sacrifice their live, if all political parties do not support the abolition of the law. We need more talks to convince the unconvinced and it cannot be achieved through a hunger strike. This is where Tawan and Bam, no matter how well intended, got it wrong.

Talks for decades….

Hunger strikes are a longstanding political protest, used by many. Nelson Mandela went on a hunger strike when imprisoned and he also intervened to seek a negotiated settlement with the apartheid government in another instance of a hunger strike by political prisoners.  Gandhi is listed as having used it at least 18 times.

Ironically, Mandela and Gandhi sometimes got far better responses from the racist South African and British colonial state than these brave and principled young women get from the military-monarchy regime.

We recall a recent book on the history of hunger strikes, Refusal to Eat A Century of Prison Hunger Strikes by Nayan Shah. Its promotional material states:

The power of the hunger strike lies in its utter simplicity. The ability to choose to forego eating is universally accessible, even to those living under conditions of maximal constraint, as in the prisons of apartheid South Africa, Israeli prisons for Palestinian prisoners, and the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. It is a weapon of the weak, potentially open to all. By choosing to hunger strike, a prisoner wields a last-resort personal power that communicates viscerally, in a way that is undeniable—especially when broadcast over prison barricades through media and to movements outside.

It is an expression of exasperation, often when other means of protest and negotiation are closed or unavailable. It is often a last-ditch effort for change.

By intervening in this manner, it seems another media capitulation, handing the regime a free pass for “years, no, decades…”. The result was that we had an old song ringing in our ears, with apologies to the Doobie Brothers and Arthur Reynolds:

… LM is just alright with meLM is just alright, oh yeahLM is just alright with meLM is just alright
I don’t care what they may sayI don’t care what they may doI don’t care what they may sayLM is just alright, oh yeahLM is just alright….
LM is just alright with meLM is just alright, oh yeahLM is just alright with meLM is just alright
I don’t care what they may knowI don’t care where they may goI don’t care what they may knowLM is just alright, oh yeah
LM, He’s my friendLM, He’s my friend….
Update: Above, we made a few changes to spacing and finished a couple of sentences. Sadly, our point about wretched regimes negotiating with hunger strikers on their demands, but not in Thailand, Thai PBS reports that the “Criminal Court has rejected bail applications for ten ‘political’ prisoners and detainees on the grounds that most of them have been charged with serious offenses, which range from possession of explosives, arson and causing damage to public property to inciting unrest and lèse majesté…”. We note the newspaper’s unwillingness to acknowledge political prisoners.

International reporting on massive 112 sentence

29 01 2023

Lese majeste sentencing and the law itself are back in the international media. Not only are the anti-112 hunger strikers and related protests getting some attention, but the mammoth sentence handed out to Mongkol Thirakhote has flashed around the world.

Even the Bangkok Post’s briefly reports Mongkol’s case. It has been more diligent in reporting on the hunger strike by Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong. Difficult to ignore this strike when even the usually supine National Human Rights Commission has expressed “concern” for these two women. Neither appears to have mentioned Sitthichok Sethasavet’s hunger strike.

The international reporting has focused on the huge sentence and linked to protests and hunger strikes.

Associated Press (AP), Yahoo, and AFP reporting has gone to hundreds of outlets from small town newspapers to major national dailies, and radio and TV outlets from Japan, to India, to the US and Germany, from the left to the right.

Reports from the region are in Mizzima, The Straits Times, Today, Benar News, among others.

42 years for lese majeste

29 01 2023

As we briefly mentioned in a recent post, Mongkol Thirakhote was recently found guilty of 14 counts of lese majeste by the Chiang Rai Provincial Court. The charges all related to Facebook posts deemed “insulting” of the monarchy.

Prachatai reports on his case.

Mongkol, now 29 is an online clothing vendor from Chiang Rai, was arrested in April 2021 while taking part in a hunger strike at the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court to demand the release of political prisoners held in pre-trial detention.

He was later charged under Article 112 and for computer crimes. He was accused of insulting the monarchy in 25 Facebook posts he made between 2 and 11 March 2021, “including messages referring to the King’s images, sharing video clips and foreign news reports about the Thai monarchy, and sharing posts from Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s Facebook page while adding captions.”

As far as we can tell, none of these reports and posts were incorrect or false.

Police searched his house in Chiang Rai and “confiscated several pieces of paper with messages written on them, a declaration by the activist group Ratsadorn, an armband with the three-finger salute symbol, and a red ribbon, and had his mother sign documents to acknowledge the search and confiscation. Mongkhon’s mobile phone was also confiscated when he was arrested in Bangkok.”

He was re-arrested in May 2021 and slapped with two further lese majeste and computer crimes charges for two other Facebook posts.

He got bail after both arrests.

On 26 January 2023, the Chiang Rai Provincial Court “found Mongkhon guilty of 14 counts of royal defamation, on the ground that 14 out of the 27 posts can be determined to be about King Vajiralongkorn and that they are an expression of opinion that is outside the limit of the law. As for the remaining 13 posts, the Court said that they were either about the late King Bhumibol or an undetermined person and dismissed them.”

It now seems that judges have been instructed to stick more closely to the letter of the law rather than convicting for statements regarding dead kings. In the past, the courts had concocted such convictions.

The court sentenced Mongkol to three years in prison on each of the 14 lese majeste convictions, meaning a total of 42 years, said to be the second lengthiest prison term for lese majeste. As usual, the court “reduced the sentence to 2 years per count because he gave useful testimony, giving a total sentence of 28 years…”.

The court had “ordered Mongkhon to be tried in secret, and that initially no one not involved in the trial was allowed inside the courtroom. Mongkhon’s lawyer had to ask the court for permission before Mongkhon’s parents could enter the courtroom.”

Mongkol “was later granted bail to appeal his charges on the condition that he must not do anything that damages the monarchy or leave the country. Since he posted bail using a total of 300,000 baht in security when he was arrested, the court did not require additional security.”

End lawfare

28 01 2023

A statement from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights targets lawfare: “the use of judicial harassment and politically-motivated charges against critics and political opponents…”.

The Parliamentarians are mainly focused on the use of defamation laws.

The use of defamation to silence activists has been common in Thailand. However, PPT sees a broader approach in THailand, where there has been a huge increase in judicial harassment since the 2014 coup and most especially since the 2020 rise of the monarchy reform movement. Many hundreds of charges – and most notably Article 112 or lese majeste – have been laid over the past few years and courts, police, and prosecutors have cooperated with the regime to use prosecution and bail to harass and silence political opponents. This is one reason why the moves by Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong, self-revoking bail, is so significant.

The Parliamentarians state:

The Philippines, as well as other ASEAN member states, must immediately halt the use of judicial harassment and politically-motivated charges against critics and political opponents, a phenomenon known as ‘lawfare’, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today at a press conference held in Manila.

“We call on Southeast Asian authorities to stop abusing the legal system to stifle dissent and urge ASEAN to reprimand member states that continue to use lawfare to attack political opposition. The Philippine government can take the first step by dropping all charges against Walden Bello and immediately releasing Senator Leila De Lima and any others that have been unjustly detained due to politically-motivated charges,” said Mercy Barends, Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and member of the Indonesian House of Representatives.

The press conference, titled “Stop Lawfare! No to the Weaponization of the Law and State-sponsored Violence,” was organized by APHR and the Walden Bello Legal Defense Committee, in solidarity with Walden Bello, an APHR Board Member and former Member of Parliament in the Philippines. Bello is facing politically-motivated charges of cyber-libel brought by a former Davao City information officer who now works as chief of the Media and Public Relations Division of the Office of the Vice President, Sara Duterte.

There have been many other victims of lawfare in the Philippines, including Senator Leila de Lima, who was arrested in February 2017 on trumped-up drug charges, shortly after she had launched a Senate investigation into the extrajudicial killings committed under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. She has remained in detention ever since, still waiting for her trial, despite the fact that several key witnesses have recanted their testimonies.

“Lawfare is very common in the Philippines, but is happening everywhere in Southeast Asia and beyond. Governments in the region are using ambiguous laws to prosecute political opponents, government critics, and activists. This weaponizing of the legal system is alarming and incredibly damaging to freedom of expression. It creates an atmosphere of fear that not only silences  those who are targeted by such “lawfare” but also makes anyone who may want to criticize those in power think twice,” said  Charles Santiago, APHR Co-chairperson and former Malaysian Member of Parliament.

In Myanmar and Cambodia, for example, laws on treason and terrorism have been weaponized to crush opposition. The most tragic example took place in July last year, with the execution of four prominent Myanmar activists on bogus terrorism charges by the Myanmar junta. Those were the first judicial executions in decades, and provide an extreme example of how the law can be perverted by authoritarian regimes to cement their power, APHR has denounced. In Cambodia, members of the opposition are sentenced to lengthy jail terms on fabricated charges simply for exercising their right to freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, defamation laws are among the most often used for lawfare in Thailand, where, contrary to many other countries, it might be regarded as a criminal offense, rather than just a civil offense. Sections 326–328 of the Thai Criminal Code establish several defamation offenses with sentences of up to two years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 200,000 Thai Baht (approximately USD 6,400).

“I think we, as parliamentarians, should do our utmost in our respective countries to repeal, or at least amend, these kinds of laws. Our democracies depend on it. But I also think that we cannot do it alone. We need to work together across borders, share experiences with parliamentarians from other countries and stand in solidarity with those who fall victim to them, because, ultimately, we are all on the same boat,” said Rangsiman Rome, Member of the Thai Parliament, and APHR member.

Monarchy reform rejuvenated

27 01 2023

As a follow-up to our previous post, here we reproduce a post from Prachatai’s FB page:

Anon Nampa gives a speech, saying that he has received a phone call from a high-ranking figure in Pheu Thai party that, on Friday, every opposition party will make a statement to support Tantawan and Orawan. Their demands will be to amend the royal defamation charge at the minimum, and abolish the law at the maximum.

He went on, saying the new wave of pro-democracy movement starting in 2020 defies those who said it had won nothing. Examples given were the emergence of activist groups like Thalufah, Thaluwang, or Thalugaz, the anti-torture bill’s approval, and the lawmakers scrutinies over the Royal Office annual budget.

Clipped from Prachatai FB (photo credit Chana La)

Moreover, the authorities’ retaliation to the movement has consolidated them and created more allies across generations, and the fights between democracy and authoritarianism have sparked everywhere.

“Let us pass the message to Tawan and Bam that. This day, this place, we have awakened and ready to fight side by side with the two of them and those who are in prison…This is the clash between the old and the new idea, democracy and authoritarianism. This clash will take place in every fibre, every class.”

“We talked in 2020 with due truth. They took us to the Court, the conservatives said ‘prove yourself in the Court’, but when we tried to prove by asking for the travel document [of King Rama X to Germany], the Court did not issue [the document request]. Are they scared of the truth?” said Anon.

Anon asked the demonstrators to come out, raise their voice to the Court over the injustice the political detainees have received. If the political prisoners are all released, the political parties respond to the two’s pleas, it would be more reasonable to tell them to save their own lives to see the justice reform demands being done.

Brave women II

24 01 2023

Prachatai and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights have provided more information on “monarchy reform advocates Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong…”.

The report states that these two resolute women “were taken to the Department of Corrections Hospital last Friday (20 January).” This move was against their own wishes and they have “refused all medical treatment and insisted on being taken back to the Women’s Central Correctional Institution…”.

As is usual in such cases, their lawyer was given the runaround by the authorities and prison officials.

Once the lawyer was permitted to meet them, TLHR was able to report on their condition. Their lawyer stated that on (22 January, “the two activists were fatigued and nauseous, and that Orawan condition had worsened as she reportedly passed out in the bathroom.” In addition, the two “asked their lawyer to tell the public that they are staying strong. They also noted that they heard the fireworks set off in front of the prison and thanked people for their support.”

On 23 January, TLHR released another statement after another visit by a lawyer. It said the:

two activists were pale and fatigued, and told the lawyer that Tantawan fainted in the bathroom on Sunday evening (22 January) and hit her head. She said she refused a CT scan, and the two activists told the lawyer that they did not want to receive treatment from or stay at the Department of Corrections Hospital, as a statement released by the Department of Corrections released on Sunday evening did not mention that Tantawan fainted. The two activists also said they were not able to walk on their own as the Department of Corrections claimed.

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