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On the iconic red bricks of USC village in sunny southern California, members of the Association for Thai Democracy (ATD) and Los Angeles locals staged a protest in support of activists Tantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatulanon and Orawan ‘Bam’ Phuphong.

Portraits of detained activists, both sentenced and awaiting trial.

Prachatai English interviewed the organisers Pongkwan Sawasdipakdi and “Achil” (who asked to remain anonymous). They wanted to show moral support for Tawan and Bam, to “let them know their voices have already been heard. . . and to spread awareness among foreigners about the human rights situation in Thailand.”

The demonstration was announced on the Association for Thai Democracy, USA’s Facebook page under the title ‘Stand to Free Political Prisoners in Thailand.’ Held on 1 February, 2023 at 16:00 on the University of Southern California campus, it involved an activity in which passers-by were asked to vote on “most ridiculous reason” for accusing people of political crimes in Thailand.

On 29 January, the association also released a statement demanding Thai authorities observe “rule of law and grant the political prisoners the justice and human rights they deserve” on the grounds that “these fundamental rights. . . need to be guaranteed for democracy to flourish.”

Pongkwan and Achil stated that they “fully support” Tawan and Bam’s three demands and reiterated ATD’s declaration - “After all, what they asked for was judicial reform that would guarantee their freedom of expression and freedom of assembly - something that should be respected in a democracy.”

Portraits of detained activists, both sentenced and awaiting trial

The organisers hope the government will respond favourably to the activist’s demands to reform the judicial system.  They also call 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 a repeal of the royal defamation and sedition laws.

Pongkwan and Achil also emphasise that such reforms go beyond the responsibility of the government and need to take place within the courts themselves. The organisers called for consistency in decisions about whether or not suspects are granted bail and demanded that the courts “firmly adhere to the presumption of innocence.”

As of 8 February, Tawan and Bam are in critical condition and have been hospitalised at Thammasat University hospital after 21 days of dry fasting. Their lawyer was told by doctors that they would not live through the night without medical intervention. They have since agreed to receive IV fluids, but are still refusing food.

Pongkwan and Achil concluded with the following message to Tawan and Bam:

“We want to thank them for still standing firm on what they believe. However, since people outside the jail have already come out to amplify their demands, we hope that they would consider saving their lives now for the future fight.

"We are truly concerned about their deteriorating health conditions and want them to stay with us throughout this long journey. For Tawan, Bam, and the other activists who are still fighting, we hope that they will receive the justice they deserve soon.”

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