Although many are already facing a long list of charges, activists have returned to protesting to support the demands made by two activists who have gone on a dry fast for over 10 days.
Protesters with images of the detained activists on royal defamation charges.
The 112-hour-long demonstration organised by the activist group Thalufah was coming to an end on 27 January evening. However, it attracted even more attention as about 500 people joining their stakeout, an exceptionally large gathering for the pro-democracy movement which, over the past year, has had diminished displays of support from the public.
The protest was held at the skywalk atop Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) to support Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong, two activists who renounced bail for their royal defamation charge and went on a hunger strike to demand reform of the justice system and the release of political prisoners. They are also calling on political parties to promote policies that ensure basic political freedoms.
The gatherers were joined by people who marched out from Chulalongkorn University. Student union members from the University and nearby Triam Udom Suksa school staged a 1.12 km walk to show their support for the pair’s demands.
People march to BACC from CU. The banner states "Return our people."
On 26 January, the fasting activists were moved to Thammasat University Hospital, where they were given potassium to keep their hearts from failing. Later that day, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that Tantawan has refused to take any more.
Distress calls to save lives
Activists from many groups and organisations gave speeches. All have been charged with crimes for their past political expressions. Some are on bail with the condition that they not commit offences like protesting or encouraging others to do so.
In his speech, Anon Nampa reported that he received a phone call from a high-ranking figure in the Pheu Thai party. He was told that on Friday, opposition parties will issue a statement in support of Tantawan and Orawan and their demands to amend, or possibly abolish, the royal defamation law.
Anon Nampa (Image: Ginger Cat)
He went on to list the gains of the post-2020 pro-democracy movement: the emergence of activist groups like Thalufah, Thaluwang, or Thalugaz, the approval of an anti-torture bill, and growing public scrutiny of the annual Royal Office budget.
He also noted that the harsh treatment state authorities brought to bear on the movement fostered unity among the protesters and created allies across generations, giving rise to fights against authoritarianism everywhere.
“Let us pass the message to Tawan and Bam. On this day, at this place, we have awakened and are ready to fight side by side with the two of them and the rest of those who are in prison…This is a clash between the old ideas and the new, between democracy and authoritarianism. It will be fought in every community, at every level.”
“We spoke truthfully in 2020 but they took us to the Court. The royalists told us, if you are so sure of yourselves, prove it in the Court. But when we tried to prove what we said by asking for the release of travel documents [of King Rama X to Germany], the Court did not release them. Are they afraid of the truth?” said Anon.
Anon called upon protesters to raise their voices over the injustice political detainees have received. He also demanded that political prisoners be released and political parties respond to the pleas of fasting activists, both to save their lives and to see judicial reform happen.
In a separate speech from Yingcheep Atchanont, a campaigner from the legal watchdog, iLaw, it was noted that hundreds of people had already been charged for expressing their thoughts and even more were likely to be detained.
He went on to explain that in royal defamation cases, the judicial process was highly irregular. Judges claimed to be in charge of the process, but the cases were often decided by court executives picked by Supreme Court committee members who had undergone a study program organised by the military.
At present, it is difficult to openly propose the abolition of the royal defamation law because legal mechanisms all but prohibit doing so. Because the situation looked hopeless, the two activists decided to risk their lives to see if anyone supported them.
“We are here today to tell Bam and Tawan that we do,” said Yingcheep.
He added that the pair’s struggle may have influenced the outcomes in recent lese majeste cases: a suspect who was allowed bail in Chiang Rai; Computer Crime Act charge that was dropped in Pattaya; an effort to revoke the bail of another activist that was denied.
He also urged people to push for change with their votes in the upcoming election.
“I want to see Tawan and Bam go to vote. This would be their first time, wouldn’t it?” said Yingcheep.
A protester calls for free hug amidst sunflowers, a symbol for Tantawan and Orawan. (Image: Ginger Cat)
Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon, another activist, questioned the way the royal defamation law was being interpreted and noted that trials lacked uniform standards. In her view, over-enforcement by an authoritarian regime has turned the law into a political weapon.
Noting that the law had deprived people of their liberties and even caused deaths, she urged political parties to push for its abolition, to restore justice for her and others.
Panupong Jadnok, an activist from Rayong Province made an appearance after a lengthy period of a keeping a low public profile.
Noting that his speech could increase his charge tally to 41, he expressed hope that the protest would be followed by others. He also called upon the judicial system to recognise protesters' voices before it is too late.
Stakeout to go on
On a skywalk atop BACC, Thanapat Kapeng, an activist from Thalufah group, said there are still 22 political prisoners behind bars in total. He added that under authoritarian power, the courts were coming to be seen as nothing more than a tool to limit rights and freedom.
Thalufah expressed support for those who are fighting for change. They underlined Tantawan and Orawan’s demands, and also called for the immediate release of political prisoners to save the lives of the two hunger strikers.
“We won't go anywhere until our friends receive justice and freedom. Authoritarianism will never suppress the people’s hearts. The people have awakened and are on fire. They are inspired to act for the equality of the people,” said Thanapat.
Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a leading figure with Thalufah, announced that the group will continue to camp out and protest as long as the hunger strike continues.