With grit and tenacity, they defy the Thai power at the risk of their lives. Tantawan Tuatulanon, 21, and Orawan Phuphong, 23, have been on hunger strike since January 18. Transported on a stretcher, their eyelids closed and their faces weakened, the two activists nicknamed “Tawan” and “Bam” were again hospitalized near Bangkok on March 3 (1).
They demand a profound reform of the judicial system, the release of imprisoned pro-democracy activists awaiting trial, and the repeal of the law on the crime of lèse-majesté, one of the most severe in the world.
Indicted for a poll
They themselves were charged for this reason. Their “crime”? Having, in February 2022, organized a poll asking people if they felt royal motorcades were an annoyance to the public. In Thailand, Article 112 of the Penal Code punishes from 3 to 15 years in prison “anyone who defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir apparent or regent”. Each violation is cumulative.
A time interrupted, lèse-majesté cases resumed in 2020, on the orders of the former putschist general and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. That year, tens of thousands of young Thais took to the streets. Initially anti-government protests turned into a revolt against the throne.
Since then, an NGO has identified 1,890 people prosecuted for “political” offenses. Among them, 228 are accused of lèse-majesté. “Tawan and Bam’s hunger strike shows that activists continue to use peaceful means to protest despite government repression,” said Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong of Amnesty International.
Without water or food
This mode of action is not new. Tyrell Haberkorn, of the University of Wisconsin, recalls that several opponents went on hunger strikes, “especially after the coups of 2006 and 2014. But most were shorter”. Tawan and Bam follow a dry diet, without water or food – sometimes agreeing to drink or receive mineral salts.
Released on bail last year, they requested the revocation of their parole on January 16, in support of other imprisoned activists. Back to prison, where they started their hunger strike 2 days later.
The prudence of the parties
As for the opposition parties, Pheu Thai and Move Forward, they signed a declaration calling for the satisfaction of their first two grievances, on the reform of the judicial system and the release of pro-democracy activists. But they did not address the third on the monarchy. With the approach of the legislative elections in May, no formation wishes to risk its dissolution, say the experts.
“These two parties did not make this protest a means of pressure on power, analyzes Kanokrat Lertchoosakul, lecturer at Chulalongkorn University. And the government did not take this hunger strike seriously, considering that it was not a direct threat to the elections”. In the meantime, the lives of Tawan and Bam are increasingly threatened. In the quasi-general indifference.
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