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Thai students in deteriorating health after hunger strike, say lawyers 

Two Thai students imprisoned for leading mass protests that called for reform of the monarchy are in deteriorating health after spending up to six weeks on hunger strike, their lawyers have said.

A lawyer acting for Parit Chiwarak, 23, who is known by the nickname Penguin, said he had fatigue, constant dizziness and was unable to stand. Parit began a hunger strike on 15 March to protest against his pre-trial detention.

Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, 22, another key figure in the protest movement, has been on hunger strike since 2 April. Her lawyer, Sirikan Charoensiri, said she had experienced numbness, but had since taken rehydration drinks.

Both are facing multiple charges under Thailand’s lese-majesty law following their role in the unprecedented mass protests last year, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to call for reforms to the country’s monarchy.

Protesters, many of them young students, have demanded a more accountable and transparent royal family, which they say should not interfere in politics. They have also called for the monarchy budget to be reduced, for the king’s private wealth to be separated from the crown wealth, and for the king to relinquish control of some army regiments. The disappearance or deaths of monarchy critics should be investigated, they say, and the law banning criticism of the royal family should be scrapped.

Parit faces 20 charges under the lese-majesty law, which could result in a sentence of 300 years. Panusaya faces nine cases under the law, which could lead to a 135-year sentence if convicted.

Parit’s lawyer, Kritsadang Nutcharat, said he had a video call with his client on Wednesday and was very concerned about his health. “I could see he was fainting all the time. His voice was low and tired. He couldn’t stand up by himself because he would collapse,” he said, adding that Parit had reported he was passing black flesh, despite not having eaten.

Parit was also unable to sleep at night and had been taking sleeping pills, he said.

The Department of Corrections said in a statement that Penguin’s condition remained normal and he was “only showing symptoms of fatigue from hunger strike”. The department said it had prepared a medical team to monitor his condition and was ready to send him to the prison hospital if necessary.

Panusaya’s condition “remains normal and shows no fatigue from hunger”, the statement said.

Since July last year, at least 581 people have been charged in connection with political activities related to the protests, such as taking part in rallies or posting supportive comments on social media, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

At least 82 people face cases under Thailand’s lese-majesty law, which states that anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir apparent or regent” can face up to 15 years on each charge. UN rights experts have previously said such laws “have no place in a democratic country.”

Kritsadang will request bail for Parit again on Thursday afternoon, but, speaking before the hearing, he said he did not expect it would be granted. He had lost faith in the legal system, he said, after having had multiple previous applications refused.

“I’ve used all the legal knowledge that I’ve studied and practised for years,” Kritsadang said, adding that other prominent legal experts had also commented that bail should be granted.

At least 17 people charged in relation to the protests are in pre-trial detention after the courts rejected requests for bail.

Last week, Parit’s family shared a letter he had written to his sister from inside prison: “While I’m away, take good care of yourself, study hard, and also look after Dad and Mum. Importantly, when I’m no longer here, tell everyone about the brother you grew up with, what he believes in, what he’s done, and what he was willing to sacrifice for that.

“I hope the story that my sister will tell others, will inspire more people to have faith, and they will stand up to act for their beliefs, as your brother has always done.”

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