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A pro-democracy activist detained on royal defamation charges has been pronounced dead in custody after suffering a cardiac arrest while she was on a hunger strike to call for judicial system reform and the release of political dissidents.

Several Thai news outlets reported on Tuesday (14 May) that activist Netiporn Sanesangkhom, also known as Bung Thaluwang, was transferred from the Corrections Hospital to Thammasat Hospital that morning after suffering a cardiac arrest during a hunger strike calling for judicial reform and no more political dissidents to be imprisoned. A postmortem has been called for.

According to a Thammasat University Hospital statement, Netiporn was administered CPR beginning at 06.23 am at the Corrections Hospital and she was found unconscious and without vital signs upon arrival at Thammasat University Hospital at 9.30 AM. CPR administered continuously for 2 hours before she was pronounced dead at 11.22 am.

Krissadang Nutcharat, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), told the media that the initial cause was a heart attack and the actual cause of death will be investigated tomorrow. He said Netiporn previously had physical symptoms such as swelling, abdominal pain and fatigue, as well as insomnia. The medical evaluation suggested that Netiporn was in the process of recovering from the hunger strike as her family requested her to eat. However, she was unable to do so due to the prolonged hunger strike. She was instead given liquid sustenance.

Netiporn, a 28-year-old activist, began her involvement in political movements with the “Bad Students” group in 2020 before joining the Thaluwang group in 2022. Since attending political activities, she was prosecuted in a total of 7 cases, two of which were under the royal defamation law.

According to TLHR, she was detained twice. The first time was 3 May 2022, when the court revoked her bail after she conducted a public poll on 8 February 2022 at Siam Paragon concerning royal motorcades. This was the first time she went on a hunger strike before being bailed after her 8th bail request on 4 August 2022.

The most recent detention resulted from a charge of contempt of court for an incident on 19 October 2023, during which a police officer hit Netiporn with a baton and injured her. On 26 January, she was sentenced to 1 month in prison for the charge. On the same day, the court revoked her bail on the royal defamation charge for the incident on 8 February 2022, claiming that she had violated her bail conditions by participating in a protest on 6 August 2023, where she demanded that Senator and poet Naowarat Pongpaiboon be stripped of his status as National Artist after he abstained during the parliamentary vote to choose a Prime Minister.

Netiporn had been on the hunger strike since 27 January. It was also reported that Netiporn faced health conditions since the first month of the hunger strike, but insisted on continuing to push her demands. At the time, Netiporn refused any medical treatment, and she also expressed her intention to donate her body to the Faculty of Medicine, Thammasat University.

Netiporn is one of the two detainees charged under the royal defamation law who died during detention. The first one is Ampon Tangnoppakul, a 64-year-old man who died on 8 May 2012.

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