Muted response as hunger strikers hit 50 days

Two young protesters held under Thailand’s strict royal insult law entered their 50th day of hunger striking, but in the run-up to a general election and with the government cracking down on dissent, the response to their marathon action has been muted.

Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phupong have been in and out of court and hospital since beginning their hunger strike on Jan 18 to urge political parties to support the abolition of the kingdom’s tough lese majeste laws.

But with mainstream politicians focused on the upcoming polls and many activists fearful of being charged with lese majeste themselves if they voice support, even after seven weeks of hunger the pair’s protest is not making waves.

“There were many people at the beginning, but as the protest continues fewer people come,” said Krisadang Nootjaras, from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a legal aid group that handles many royal insult cases.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a conservative former army chief who took power in a 2014 coup, has pleaded with the women’s families to “monitor” their behaviour.

Opposition parties have stopped short of backing Tantawan and Orawan’s calls for reform, reluctant to get entangled in the highly sensitive question of the monarchy so close to an election.

And there has been little action on Bangkok’s streets, which were brought to a standstill by mass youth-led protests in 2020 and 2021 that included demands for changes to the royal insult law.

Tantawan, 21, and Orawan, 23, were freed from custody last month as their condition worsened, and they are now conscious in hospital and receiving electrolytes, Krisadang said.

They were charged in 2022 with lese majeste over two separate protests in Bangkok. — AFP

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hunger striking , royal , insult , law


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