Lawyers and families of activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong held a press conference at Thammsat University Hospital on 4 February (Photo by Thaivoice News)

Two activists to continue their hunger strike, says lawyer

Activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Orawan Phuphong, who are undergoing a hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners and judicial reform, will continue their hunger strike until every political prisoner is released, said their lawyer during a press conference on Saturday (4 February).

Lawyer Krisadang Nutcharus (centre) leading the press conference at Thammasat University Hospital (Photo by Thaivoice News)

Krisadang Nutcharus, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), said during a press conference held at Thammasat University Hospital on Saturday (4 February) that he and the two activists’ parents met Tantawan and Orawan on Friday (3 February), and reported that they were alert and were able to hold a conversation. Krisadang said he informed Tantawan and Orawan that the National Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Justice have issued a joint statement promising reform of the judicial system, while several political parties have agreed to discuss issues related to the royal defamation law and sedition law in parliament. He also told them that the Court of Justice held a press conference on bail on that Friday (3 February), and read them the press release, which Tantawan and Orawan said did nothing and said nothing.

Krisadang said that he also told them that many activists have been allowed to take off their monitoring bracelets, and that the court is considering bail requests for many political prisoners. Nevertheless, the two activists said they will continue with their hunger strike until every political prisoner is released and asked TLHR to post bail for everyone still detained again on Monday (6 February).

“[Tantawan and Orawan] believe that, the Ministry of Justice, the National Human Rights Commission or political parties tend to listen to the people,” Krisadang said, “… but the court has never listened. They have asked me to tell you that they will continue their hunger strike, but they are not trying to pressure the court. They wanted to prove whether what the court spokesperson said, that the court uses human rights principles when ruling on case,s  was true.”

Krisadang said that the two activists made their decisions on their own and that they are of sound mind and are resolute. He also said that Tantawan asked that people not worry about her, and that she has made her own choice.

“They wanted to call on the conscience of people in the justice system, meaning the courts, to wake up. If they did something wrong, then let’s talk about it. It’s not like what the court spokesperson said yesterday, which any reasonable person can see that it was a waste. It was a repeat from before of something they’ve always been saying and over and over. If it was really true, you wouldn’t jail the wrong person. There wouldn’t be a judge who committed suicide. A police major general would not have to seek asylum in Australia. This country is not being ruled by law if this is what they’re doing,” Krisadang said.

Tantawan's father Sommai Tuatulanon (centre) leaving the hospital building with lawyers, other activists, and members of the two families (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Meanwhile, the two activists’ parents are now very concerned about their daughters, whose condition is getting worse after two weeks of hunger strike. Krisadang said that Tantawan’s parents told him they “want their daughter back alive and with honour and dignity.”

Tantawan’s father Sommai Tuatulanon, who joined the press conference, said that he has seen his daughter’s condition deteriorate since the first time he visited her at the hospital. Tantawan has lost a lot of weight and he could see the bones of her face, while her ribs could be felt underneath her skin. He said he is not sure what will happen during the next few days once her body has broken down all of her muscle.

“I’m afraid that there isn’t much time left, and something will happen we may not want to face,” he said.

Orawan's father Suchart Phuphong speaking at the press conference (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Orawan’s father Suchart Phuphong said that the medical team told him to wait until Monday to be told what can be done, but he said that Orawan’s condition is considered critical to her parents although her doctors say they need to keep monitoring her, and that they are concerned that she may not make it to Monday.

Suchart called on the powers that be to have sympathy when someone is using a method the two activists are using to demand the rights Thai people should already have, and to keep someone who is the nation’s future healthy and strong.

“Even though she looks good on the outside and the doctors said she can still respond, but her parents know how much she can take,” he said.

“Young people this age should not be going on hunger strikes. They should be having fun. Do you get it? My daughter will never be able to live a normal life when her life has gotten to his point. I think in the future, I want to see her in a condition where she can join the fight and call for all rights for all of us without fear, with institutions that have a strong spine. We will help each other to build a strong country. We have to rely on our determination and bravery”

On 16 January, Tantawan and Orawan revoked their own bail to demand the release of political prisoners and reform of the judicial system so that human rights and freedom of expression take priority, and so that courts are independent and protect people’s freedom, as well as for judges to make decisions without intervention from their own executives.

They also called for all charges to be dropped against those exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly, and for every political party to guarantee people’s rights, freedoms, and political participation by backing the repeal of the royal defamation law and sedition law.

After no response was made to their demands within the three-day time limit, Tantawan and Orawan announced on 18 January that they would be dry fasting and will not request bail for themselves until their demands are met. They were initially admitted to the Department of Corrections Hospital but were transferred to Thammasat University Hospital on 24 January.

At the request of their doctors, the pair started sipping a small amount of water each day since 30 January to keep their conditions stable and because their lips were cracked. Although they received potassium supplements when they arrived at the hospital, as they had low potassium level and Tantawan was at risk of cardiac arrest, they have been refusing medical treatment and vitamin or sugar supplements since.

Krisadang said that he last saw the activists on Friday (3 February). He said that the lawyers requested that they, along with Tantawan and Orawan’s families, be allowed to visit the pair during the weekend, because their condition is critical, and he was initially told by the Justice Minister that they would be allowed to do so. However, he was contacted on Friday night and informed that the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Justice has rejected their request because there is no rule allowing it, so instead they met with the activists’ medical team.

“Because we are citizens, people, we’re going to accept what the state has ordered, but I wanted to warn the bureaucrats in the Department of Corrections and the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Justice that death does not take the weekend off, and I don’t believe that you won’t allow parents to see the girls during the weekend, even though this is Thammasat University Hospital and there are four guards watching the two girls on their hospital beds,” Krisadang said.

The lawyer said that, when he visited the activists on Friday, the two were not able to sit for a long time and that they were talking while lying down. They spoke slowly, required a walker to walk to the bathroom, and Tantawan is often dizzy, has chest pains, blurred vision, and difficulty sleeping.

Both Tantawan and Orawan have a low blood potassium levels, low blood sugar, and high ketone levels, which are caused by the lack of nutrients and hydration. The doctors said that the low potassium level could make them go into shock, but that they cannot predict what will happen. The activists’ medical team planned to monitor them and check their vital signs every 2 hours, but agreed to do so every hour at the families’ request.

He noted that the doctors have already put in an IV line in preparation for an emergency, because it might be difficult to do this if they had already gone into shock, and that the pair consented to having the IV line in place.

Dr Tossapon Sesirak (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Dr Tossaporn Serirak, a former Pheu Thai party MP and a medical doctor, said that the activists’ condition can be considered critical. He said that low potassium levels can cause cardiac arrhythmia or arrest, while high ketone levels can cause them to go into shock as ketone is removed through the kidneys. However, when a person is dehydrated, the kidneys will make up for it by trying to conserve water, causing a build-up of toxins, affecting the brain and other organs. Dr Tossaporn said he was not sure whether the heart can be revived if it has gone into cardiac arrest, and whether the IV line already placed in the two activists’ hands would help if they go into shock.

“This is the most critical thing. I want to call on all justice organizations to quickly make a decision and do something. Don’t let it come to the sacrifice of the two girls’ lives,” he said.

Two other people are also hunger striking to protest the detention of activists and protesters. Sitthichok Sethasavet, 26, a food delivery rider detained pending appeal on a royal defamation charge, is also on a hunger strike to demand bail. He was also transferred to Thammasat University Hospital on 1 February.

Meanwhile, Mongkhon Thirakot, who was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison for royal defamation for a number of Facebook posts, has been on a hunger strike while sitting in front of the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court in solidarity with Tantawan and Orawan.

Since 2007, Prachatai English has been covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite the risk and pressure from the law and the authorities. However, with only 2 full-time reporters and increasing annual operating costs, keeping our work going is a challenge. Your support will ensure we stay a professional media source and be able to expand our team to meet the challenges and deliver timely and in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: [email protected], please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”