Two Thai protesters held under the kingdom’s tough royal insult laws are growing extremely weak after nearly three weeks on hunger strike, a hospital statement said Monday.
Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phupong have refused food and most liquids for the past 20 days to urge political parties to support the abolition of Thailand’s lese majeste laws, as well as other justice reforms.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his close family are protected by some of the world’s strictest royal defamation laws, with each charge carrying a possible 15-year jail term, but rights groups say they are misused to suppress public debate.
Tantawan, 21, and Orawan, 23, were still conscious but weak, Thammasat University Hospital said in a statement posted on Facebook early on Monday.
“Key organs such as the kidneys are starting to work more slowly,” Paruhat Tor-udom, the hospital director, told reporters on Monday.
“They can communicate with doctors and visitors, and while their condition is getting worse it is not at a crisis yet.”
As well as food, the two women have refused intravenous drips containing glucose and sodium.
They 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 Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).
Both were granted bail but gave it up in solidarity with other political detainees who were refused it.
Sunai Phasuk, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the women’s lives were “hanging by a thread.”
“It is heart-wrenching to see two young women having to risk it all to demand free speech in Thailand, as well as respect for basic fair trial standards for political detainees such presumption of innocence and right to bail,” Sunai told AFP.
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.
Some 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.