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Diplomats in Thailand have expressed condolences following the death of pro-democracy activist Netiporn Sanesangkhom, who died on Tuesday (14 May) after suffering a cardiac arrest while on a hunger strike to call for judicial system reform and the release of political dissidents. Meanwhile, several human rights organizations have called for an investigation into the circumstances of her death.

Her bail was revoked on 26 January and she had been on a hunger strike since 27 January.

Candles lit in front of a picture of Netiporn during Tuesday night's vigil in front of the South Bangkok Criminal Court. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

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 was administered continuously for 2 hours before she was pronounced dead at 11.22 am.

Following reports of her death, at least 10 ambassadors to Thailand have expressed their condolences on social media, including the ambassadors of Ireland, Luxembourg, the UK, Belgium, the US, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, and the European Union.

German ambassador Ernst Reichel noted in his tweet that Netiporn died “in pre-trial detention without bail, after a prolonged hunger strike,” and wrote that “[his] wish would be that political disagreements are not taken to such bitter and extreme consequences.”

Finnish ambassador Jyri Järviaho wrote that “[his] condolences for the family and friends of political activist Ms ”Bung Thaluwang” who died in pre-trial detention earlier today after a long hunger strike.”

Meanwhile, the Swedish Embassy’s official Twitter account posted a message that it is “saddened by the news today that political activist Ms Netiporn Sanesangkhom has passed away after a long hunger strike” and offered condolences to her family and friends.

Human rights organizations have expressed their condolences and called on the Thai authorities for an investigation into Netiporn’s death. Amnesty International Thailand Director Piyanut Kotsan said that Netiporn’s death is a “shocking reminder that Thai authorities are harshly denying pro-democracy activists their freedom in an apparent bid to silence the peaceful expression of dissent,” noting that many activists and protesters have been denied bail.

“This tragic incident should serve as a wake-up call to Thai authorities to drop charges against and release all human rights defenders and other people who are unjustly detained,” Piyanut said. She called on the Thai authorities to comply with recommendations from UN human rights experts to protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, drop charges inconsistent with international human rights law, and end arbitrary detention.

Piyanut also called on the Thai government to “urgently and independently” investigate the circumstances of Netiporn’s death and how it could have been prevented, noting that the authorities must still ensure hunger strikers’ right to life and health under international law.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) wrote on Twitter that it is “devastated” by Netiporn’s death and promised to continue her fight for justice and democracy. It noted that Netiporn was detained on a royal defamation charge and that her bail requests were repeatedly denied.

CIVICUS, a network of civil society organizations and activists working to strengthen citizen action and civil society, wrote that it is “deeply concerned” by Netiporn’s death in detention and call for the release of all activists detained for royal defamation.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR)’s Southeast Asia regional office wrote that it is “deeply disturbed by death of Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom who was on hunger strike to demand judicial reform & release of prisoners.”

“We call for transparent & impartial investigation into her death & care. Freedom of expression&peaceful [sic] assembly are fundamental rights,” the Office wrote on Twitter.

Irene Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, wrote that she is “saddened & distressed” by Netiporn’s death and called on Thailand to abolish the royal defamation law and end the prosecution of activists exercising freedom of expression.

45 student organizations and activist groups issued a joint statement condemning the Thai government for judicial harassment and the judicial system's failure. It said that the authorities ignored the rule of law and the basic principle that a person should be seen as innocent until proven guilty, noting that Netiporn was treated as a criminal even if she has not been found guilty. She was detained and had her bail denied without a reasonable cause, violating the fundamental right to bail.

The organizations call on the Thai government to reform the judicial system and grant amnesty to those prosecuted for political expression, including those charged with royal defamation.

Netiporn is the second person detained under the royal defamation law to die in custody. The first was Ampon Tangnoppakul, a 64-year-old man who died on 8 May 2012.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that an autopsy was performed on Netiporn’s body this morning (15 May). It will likely take at least a month for the autopsy report to be completed, after which a court inquest will be conducted.

Netiporn’s funeral will take place between 16 – 18 May, with a cremation ceremony on 19 May. Her family has requested privacy, asking that media attending her funeral stay in a designated zone and not photograph family members.

On Tuesday night, several vigils took place in memory of Netiporn. Netiporn’s friends held a vigil at Thammasat University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, while other activists and protesters gathered in front of the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court and the South Bangkok Criminal Court. Gatherings also took place in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phrae, Lampang, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Khon Kaen.

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