Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom: Thai Activist’s Death in Custody Sparks Calls for Justice Reform


A young activist jailed for insulting Thailand’s monarchy died on Tuesday following a lengthy hunger strike, officials said, prompting an outpouring of grief and renewed calls for justice reform in the Southeast Asian kingdom.

Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom, 28, died of a “sudden heart attack,” Thailand’s Department of Corrections said in a statement. A medical team tried to resuscitate her before transferring her to Bangkok’s Thammasat University Hospital, but she “did not respond to treatment,” the department said.

The department added that a post-mortem will be conducted to ascertain the cause of death.

Netiborn was a member of Thalu Wang, a protest group that pushed for the reform of Thailand’s powerful monarchy and reform of the country. Strict les majeste lawCriticizing the king, queen or heir apparent carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The group’s name translates to “piercing through the palace”. It campaigns by conducting public opinion polls that question the authority of the monarchy.

Netiporn was part of the nationwide 2020 youth-led protest that saw millions of young people take to the streets of major cities to call for political, democratic and military reforms and, for the first time, openly criticize the monarchy and publicly question its authority. and wealth.

He had been in jail since January 26 and was awaiting trial, according to Thai lawyers, a legal advocacy group for human rights.

While in custody, Netiborn went on a 65-day hunger strike until April to protest the jailing of political dissidents without bail. During this time, his condition worsened and he was transferred back and forth to the prison hospital.

After Netiborn was sent back to prison on April 4, Thailand’s Department of Corrections said she was able to eat and drink normally, but was weak and suffered from swollen joints and anemia. He refused to take “minerals and anti-anemia supplements,” the department said.

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Panu Wongcha-Um/Reuters/File

Netiporn Sanesangkhom, center, with members of the “Bad Student” group during an anti-government protest in Bangkok on September 19, 2020.

The activist faced seven criminal cases, including two majesty charges. He previously spent 94 days in jail in 2022 and went on hunger strike before being released on bail, which was later revoked.

A class action case was filed against him in connection with a 2022 protest where he held up a banner in a busy shopping mall in Bangkok that read: “Has the royal procession caused inconvenience?”

Another grandiose charge of a similar protest in 2022 held up a sign to the public: “Do you agree that the government allows the King to exercise power as he pleases?”

In an open letter she wrote from prison in March, Nettieborn said that growing up as a judge’s daughter made her realize that “this country is not about giving justice to the little people.”

“You don’t have to be a judge’s daughter to understand the extent of the failure of the judiciary. Their existence is not for the people, they are shamelessly for the powers that be and certain groups in this country,” he wrote. “Just by asking questions and honking a car horn, you go to jail.”

Netiborne’s death shocked many in the country and prompted renewed calls for reforms to the judicial system, which would allow activists to be denied bail and held in custody for longer periods before trial.

“This is a shocking reminder that Thai authorities are severely denying the freedom of pro-democracy activists in an attempt to silence peaceful dissent. Many are currently detained, denied the right to release on temporary bail,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

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“This tragic incident should be a wake-up call to Thai authorities to drop charges and release all human rights defenders and unjustly detained people.”

On Tuesday night, supporters held a candlelight vigil outside the South Bangkok Criminal Court. Among those in attendance was Panushaya “Rang” Siddhijiravathanakul, a fellow activist who faces felony charges for his involvement in the 2020 protests.

“I feel very shocked. I’m asking myself, is she really dead? Panushaya told CNN Wednesday. “She didn’t get any justice for her cases.”

Banushaya called on Prime Minister Shretha Thavisin’s government to respond to his death and demanded the release of all political prisoners in Thailand.

“Do we have to have more people die before you care?” she asked.

On Wednesday, Shretha called Netiporn’s death a “tragic incident” and ordered Thailand’s justice ministry to investigate the circumstances surrounding it.

“I would like to express my condolences to his family. I am confident that we will do justice,” he said.

Responding to calls for the release of all political prisoners, Stretta said, “I believe the Minister of Justice has heard about this call and he is looking into the entire legal system. Justice should be given to all,” he said.

Thailand Some of the world’s harshest laws and punishments for those convicted under Section 112 of the country’s penal code can last for decades. There have been hundreds of people Prosecuted in recent years, including the convicted Mongol Tirakot 50 years of achievement He was jailed in January for social media posts deemed harmful to the king.

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years, Human rights organizations And free speech campaigners have claimed that lese majeste has been used political tool Criticism of the Thai government must be silenced.

Rights groups say the right to freedom of expression has increased since the 2020 protests in Thailand. According to Thailand’s Lawyers for Human Rights, despite last year’s transition from a military-backed government to civilian leadership, surveillance and intimidation against activists and students continues.

From the start of those protests in July 2020 to March 2024, at least 1,954 people have been prosecuted or charged for participating in political meetings and raising their voices, including 286 cases involving children, according to the legal advocacy group.

At least 270 people have been charged with les majesties in that time, the group added.

“Ms. Netiporn’s death is proof that problems with political prosecutions and the detention of pro-democracy activists, especially in lese-majesty cases, are still alive under the Pheu Thai government,” said the group’s lawyer head, Akarachai Chaimaneekarakate. CNN.

Netiporn’s death comes as Thailand competes for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Thai government is negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union, Akarachai added.

“Political prisoners who have not been found guilty of any crime by final judgment should be granted bail,” he said. “The price of basic liberties should not be their lives.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

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