Two Thai students jailed for leading mass protests calling for monarchy reform are in poor health after spending up to six weeks on hunger strike, their lawyers said.
A lawyer representing 23-year-old Parit Chiwarak, known by the nickname Penguin, said she had fatigue, constant dizziness and was unable to stand up. Parit went on a hunger strike on March 15 to protest against his preventive detention.
Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, 22, another key figure in the protest movement, has been on a hunger strike since April 2. Her lawyer, Sirikan Charoensiri, said she had experienced numbness, but had since had rehydration drinks.
Both face multiple charges under Thailand’s lese majesty law following their role in unprecedented mass protests last year, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to call for reforms to the country’s monarchy.
The protesters, many of them young students, have demanded a more accountable and transparent royal family, which they say should not interfere in politics. They have also called for the monarchy’s budget to be reduced, for the king’s private wealth to be separated from the crown’s wealth, and for the king to relinquish control of some army regiments. The disappearance or death of critics of the monarchy must be investigated, they say, and the law prohibiting criticism of the royal family must be removed.
Parit faces 20 charges under the lese majesty law, which could result in a 300-year sentence. Panusaya faces nine cases under the law, which could lead to a 135-year sentence if convicted.
Parit’s lawyer, Kritsadang Nutcharat, said he had a video call with his client on Wednesday and was very concerned for his health. “I could see that he was fainting the whole time. His voice was low and tired. He couldn’t get up just because he would collapse, ”he said, adding that Parit had reported that he was passing black meat, despite not having eaten.
Parit was also unable to sleep at night and had been taking sleeping pills, he said.
The Department of Corrections said in a statement that Penguin’s condition remained normal and that he was “only showing symptoms of fatigue from the hunger strike.” The department said it had put together a medical team to monitor his condition and was ready to send him to the prison hospital if necessary.
Panusaya’s condition “remains normal and shows no hunger fatigue,” the statement said.
Since July last year, at least 581 people have been charged in connection with political activities related to the protests, such as participating in demonstrations or posting supportive comments on social media, according to Thai human rights lawyers.
At least 82 people face cases under Thailand’s lese majesty law, which states that anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir apparent or regent” can face up to 15 years for each position. UN rights experts have previously mentioned such laws “have no place in a democratic country.”
Kritsadang will request bail for Parit again on Thursday afternoon, but, speaking before the hearing, he said he did not expect it to be granted. He had lost faith in the legal system, he said, after having had multiple previous applications rejected.
“I have used all the legal knowledge that I have studied and practiced over the years,” Kritsadang said, adding that other prominent legal experts had also commented that bail should be granted.
At least 17 people charged in connection with the protests are in pre-trial detention after courts rejected requests for bail.
Last week, Parit’s family shared a letter he had written to his sister from inside the prison: “While I’m away, take good care of yourself, study hard and also take care of Mom and Dad. Importantly, when you are no longer here, tell everyone about the brother you grew up with, what he believes in, what he has done, and what he was willing to sacrifice for it.
“I hope that the story that my sister will tell others inspires more people to have faith and to stand up to act on their beliefs, as her brother has always done.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism