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Following the death of pro-democracy activist Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom, candlelit vigils took place in several provinces in her memory and to demand the release of political prisoners.

Netiporn was pronounced dead at 11.22 on Tuesday (14 May) after suffering a cardiac arrest while she was on a hunger strike to call for judicial system reform and the release of political dissidents.

The 28-year-old activist had been held in pre-trial detention on a royal defamation charge since her bail was revoked on 26 January and had been on a hunger strike since 27 January.

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.

Activists lit candles during Tuesday night's vigil in front of the South Bangkok Criminal Court. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Several vigils took place on Tuesday night in several provinces. At Thammasat University Hospital, Netiporn’s friends and other activists gathered in the parking lot, where they lit candles in front of Netiporn’s picture.

At 17.00, activists gathered in front of the South Bangkok Criminal Court. They stood holding pictures of Netiporn, lit candles, and displayed a banner calling for the repeal of the royal defamation law and for the release of activists held in pre-trial detention.

Activist Noppasin Treelayapewat said that Netiporn's friends believe no one should lose their lives to the justice system. He said that although her cause of death has not been determined, Netiporn ultimately died because she was unfairly detained.

The right to bail is a fundamental right, Noppasin said, and everyone should be entitled to it. Netiporn's friends will keep her in their memory and he hopes that every political prisoner will soon be released.

Candles and flowers placed in front of the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court during Tuesday night's vigil. (Photo from iLaw)

Another gathering took place in front of the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court. Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), read a statement calling for the release of political prisoners and reform of the judicial system so that it will no longer be used for political gain, as well as for amnesty for everyone prosecuted for political expression, including those charged with royal defamation.

“Bung often said that she is a child of a judge, but we are here today not because she was the child of a judge. We come to stand here because she was a child of the people … who have rights and freedoms, and there should be noone who is lost because they exercise their rights and freedoms, and to insist that everyone who has not been found guilty must have the right to temporary release,” Poonsuk said.

Poonsuk noted that one of Netiporn’s demands was for the release of political prisoners, and said that her demands have not been met upon her death as 44 people remain detained on charges relating to political expression.

She also said that Netiporn is not the first person detained under the royal defamation law to die in prison. 64-year-old Ampon Tangnoppakul died on 8 May 2012 while detained at the Corrections Hospital. Such an incident should not happen again, Poonsuk said, and there should be no political prisoners in a democratic country with a rule of law.

The vigil at Tha Phae gate, Chiang Mai.

Meanwhile, in Chiang Mai, local activists and members of the public met at Tha Phae gate, a popular tourist landmark in the old town, for a candlelit vigil.

“Again a Thai person has to die from an unacceptable political reason,” said Pakawadee Weerapaspong, a writer, activist, and translator, who attended the vigil. “This time it is a young person who should in fact have had a good future.”

Pakawadee noted that Netiporn was charged with royal defamation for conducting a poll, which should not have been an offense to begin with, and that she had not been found guilty. Now, a life is lost because there is an effort to charge activists with royal defamation and detain them without bail. She hopes that Netiporn will not die in vain, and said that anyone making fun of her death should consider whether they deserve to be a citizen of a civilized country.

Other gatherings also took place in Chiang Rai, Phrae, Lampang, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Khon Kaen.

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 an 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.

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