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The posterchild of the democracy movement in Thailand, detained for lèse majesté, has won the prestigious Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.

The selection committee of the South Korean May 18 Memorial Foundation announced that Jatuphat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa, a law student and key member of the New Democracy Movement (NDM), is the winner of the 2017 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.    

Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP) nominated Jatuphat for the prize, which honours organizations or individuals in Asia for their fight for human rights and democracy. The award also carries a 50,000 USD prize for the winner.

“The 2017 GPHR Selection Committee thought highly of your brave and noble actions against dictatorship and violations on human rights,” reads the letter from Inrae You, the International Affairs Coordinator of the May 18 Memorial Foundation.

“We also noticed that your struggles have aroused attention about political conditions and the importance of their improvement among your citizens, especially among the young and have contributed to bringing democracy to Thailand,” the letter adds.

The award commemorates the Democratic Uprising or the Gwangju Uprising of 18 May 1980, when Gwangju citizens battled the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship of South Korea. Estimates suggest that up to 606 people may have died during the crackdown by government troops.

The only other Thai to have won the award was Angkhana Neelaphaijit in 2006.  She was cited because she 'was unrelenting in her efforts to obtain justice, unsparing in her criticism of government authorities, and has taken the lead role as an articulate and courageous spokesperson for the families of disappeared persons in Thailand.'  Angkhana is now a National Human Rights Commissioner.

The award ceremony will be held on 18 May in Gwangju, South Korea.

Jatuphat is accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, for sharing on his Facebook account a controversial biography of King Vajiralongkorn published by BBC Thai. He is the first person to be arrested for lèse majesté under the reign of the new King.

Shortly after he was arrested for lèse majesté on 3 December 2016, the court released him on bail. However, his bail was revoked on 22 December after he posted a satirical message mocking the authorities on his Facebook account. The message read, “Economy is poor but they (authorities) took my money for bail.”

Despite the fact that more than 2,000 people shared the same article on Facebook and millions read it, he was the only one arrested for lèse majesté.

The court has consistently refused to release him on bail, reasoning that the activist mocked the authority of the state without fearing the law and is also battling other charges for violating the Public Referendum Act and the junta’s political gathering ban in his previous political activities.

Jatuphat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa

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