Amnesty demands release of detained royal defamation convict

Amnesty International and other activists gathered at the Central Women Correctional Institution yesterday (18 September) to demand the release of political prisoners detained pending trial or appeal, including Warunee, a woman detained on a royal defamation charge.

Piyanut Kotsan (second from left) and other activists at the Central Women Correctional Institution carrying signs calling for release of political prisoners. (Photo by Amesty International)

12 people are now detained on royal defamation charges in Thailand.  8 of these are detained pending trial or appeal.

Amnesty International Thailand said that the gathering was staged to demand the right to bail not only for political prisoners but also for others detained pending trial or appeal. During the event, activists also sang happy birthday to Warunee, detained pending appeal, on the occasion of her 32nd birthday.

Warunee was sentenced to 1 year and 6 months in prison for royal defamation, violation of the Computer Crimes Act, and insulting an object of religious worship.  She is appealing the verdict but has been denied bail.

She was arrested for posting a picture on her social media account of King Vajiralongkorn changing the Emerald Buddhas seasonal decoration in a ceremony on 20 November 2021. The picture was edited to have it appear as if the Buddha was wearing a purple ball gown.  A Yorkshire terrier was sitting next to the base of the Buddha.  The picture was captionedEmerald Buddha x Sirivannavari Bangkok” - a reference to a fashion brand belonging to the King’s daughter.

Warunee has been on a hunger strike since 21 August to protest the court’s denial of bail. She has also been limiting her water intake since 24 August, only drinking a small amount when taking medication for her bipolar disorder. She was admitted to the Corrections Hospital and briefly transferred to the Thammasat University Hospital following a request from her family. She later requested to be transferred back to the Corrections Hospital, saying she felt better and did not want to burden her family with the extra cost of her stay at Thammasat University Hospital.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that Warunee has started eating a small amount of boiled rice each day so that she can take a prescribed anti-biotic which she needs to take for the next 7 – 10 days. She intends to go back to hunger striking once she has taken the required course of medication.

Piyanut Kotsan, director of Amnesty International Thailand, called on Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s government to release political prisoners, drop all charges against those prosecuted for exercising their freedom of expression and right to protest.  He also asked that the Department of Corrections ensure that it will respect detainees’ human rights, allowing them access to prompt and adequate medical care in line with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

“We hope that the new government will not ignore what is happening to detainees in prisons on political and other charges and will take our demands seriously, especially about granting bail to those detained pending trial. Relevant agencies must ensure that human rights belong to everyone equally,” Piyanut said.“

Piyanut said that the core of human rights is to ensure equal and fair treatment for all, so that everyone is treated equally under the law. She noted that bail is a fundamental right under both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and under the Thai Constitution, which says that anyone accused of a crime must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Piyanut added that, although the Constitution says that a person cannot be treated as guilty until convicted by a court, this principle is not being seriously enforced.

Meanwhile, Warunee’s sister said that she hopes Warunee will be granted bail, as she is concerned about the effects of a long hunger strike on her sister’s health. Although concerned about Warunee’s safety in prison, she said she respects her choice and hopes she will stay strong.

“I want her to be granted bail. I feel that we should have the same rights as people in other cases...facing more severe charges who are still are granted bail. I don’t understand why my sister is not. She went to all of her appointment and has never thought of running away. Why does the court say she is going to run? Frankly, I don’t understand why they didn’t grant her bail. I think it’s unfair,” Warunee’s sister said.

Warunee’s sister wants her to be able to fight her charges outside of prison. The family also wants relevant agencies to issue a written promise that Warunee will be safe and that she will not be subjected to harassment, torture, or abduction after her release.

“For her birthday this year, I want freedom for my sister. It would be a great birthday present for her.  She apologised to me on my birthday for not being able to take me anywhere because she is in prison. When it’s her birthday, I want to take her out to eat or do something she wants to do. It would be wonderful if this wish could come true,” Warunee’s sister said.

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