Two young Thai political activists end hunger strike

BANGKOK, March 11, 2023 (AFP): Two young Thai protesters facing royal defamation charges announced Saturday they were ending their marathon hunger strike following doctors' fears they could suffer organ failure.

Tantawan "Tawan" Tuatulanon, 21, and Orawan "Bam" Phupong, 23, began their hunger strike on January 18 to urge political parties to support the abolition of the kingdom's royal insult laws -- among the harshest in the world.

Wednesday marked the 50th day of the young women's protest. They were freed from custody last month as their health declined.

"Tawan and Bam would like to inform the public that we have stopped the hunger strike to save our lives to continue fighting," Tawan said in a Facebook post on Saturday.

"The medical staff are concerned our kidneys and other organs are affected by the long period without food and water."

The post confirmed that they were conscious and able to communicate.

"Although we have passed the danger zone, we still need to be taken care of by Thammasat Hospital," Tawan said, adding the pair called on authorities to release other political activists from custody.

The duo was charged with royal defamation over two separate protests in Bangkok in 2022.

Those convicted face up to 15 years in jail on each charge under a law human rights groups say is used to crush political dissent.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights says more than 200 people have been charged under lese majeste, including at least 17 minors, since pro-democracy protests in 2020.

Bangkok was rocked by those mass, youth-led protests, which made unprecedented demands for reform of Thailand's monarchy.

Thailand is expected to go to the polls in May.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who came to power in a 2014 coup, has pleaded with the women's families to monitor their behaviour.

Pheu Thai, the country's main opposition party, have stopped short of backing Tantawan and Orawan's calls for reform, appearing reluctant to get entangled in the highly sensitive question of the monarchy so close to an election.

A man was jailed for two years on Tuesday for selling a satirical calendar featuring yellow rubber ducks that a court ruled was insulting to the king. - AFP

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