Thai hunger strikers given temporary release over health concerns

Political activists Orawan Phuphong (left) and Tatawan Tuatulanon raise a three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance, in protest outside at Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand on Jan 16. - AP

Bangkok (AFP): Two Thai protesters held under the kingdom's tough royal insult laws will be temporarily released over health concerns provoked by their hunger strike, a court said on Tuesday.

Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phupong have been refusing food and water since Jan 18, a protest aimed at urging political parties to support the abolition of the country's stifling lese majeste laws.

Some of the world's strictest royal defamation laws protect King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his close family, with some charges carrying up to a 15-year sentence.

The criminal court said the plaintiffs' deteriorating health meant it was no longer suitable for them to remain in custody.

"If held in detention the plaintiffs could lose their lives," said the court statement.

The hospital had said Monday that Tantawan, 21, and Orawan, 23, had agreed to take liquids and some minerals and were able to communicate, but warned their condition was worsening.

The pair were charged with lese majeste over two separate protests in Bangkok in early 2022 -- one at the UN building and one at a shopping mall, according to rights group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

Both were earlier granted bail but gave it up in solidarity with other political detainees who were refused it.

Reform of lese majeste legislation -- known in Thailand as 112 after its section in the penal code -- was among the demands of a major protest movement that took to the streets of Bangkok in 2020.

At least 224 people have been accused or formally charged with lese majeste since 2020, according to TLHR.

Thailand is currently gearing up for a general election expected in May.

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