Thailand: Tragic death of detained activist must be 'wake-up call'

14 May 2024

Amnesty International

Photo : Siam Serichon

Responding to the death of Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom, a Thai pro-democracy activist who passed away today after a prolonged hunger strike in detention, Amnesty International Thailand Director Piyanut Kotsan said:

“Amnesty International expresses its deepest condolences following the death of Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom, who had gone on hunger strike in protest at her and others’ arbitrary detention, including for peacefully exercising their human rights.

“This 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. Many are currently detained, with their right to temporary release on bail denied.

“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. They must comply with long-standing recommendations from UN human rights experts who have urged Thailand’s government to protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, drop charges inconsistent with international human rights law and end arbitrary detention.

“Netiporn and other detained activists and human rights defenders in Thailand decided to risk their lives in hunger strikes to bring attention to the authorities’ repeated denial of their human rights - with tragic consequences.

“The Thai government must urgently and independently investigate the circumstances of Netiporn’s death and how it could have been prevented. Under international law, authorities must still ensure the rights to life and health of hunger strikers, as of any other prisoners.

“We ask the international community to urge the Thai government to end its systematic, ongoing repression including the denial of the right to temporary release on bail.”

 

Background

 

 

Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom, a 28-year-old online English tutor and activist, today suffered a cardiac arrest while in the Central Women’s Correctional Institute Hospital. She had been on a 110-day hunger strike in protest at her and others’ arbitrary detention since 26 January 2024. She was also calling for other activists to be granted temporary bail.

Police had initiated criminal proceedings against Netiporn in March 2022 after she interviewed members of the public at a Bangkok shopping mall about their opinions on road traffic controls imposed when royal motorcades are traveling. She faced charges of lèse majesté and sedition under Article 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code.

She had previously been detained between 3 May and 4 August 2022, during which time she went on hunger strike for 64 days in protest. Authorities returned her to detention after withdrawing her temporary release on bail on 26 January 2024, and also sentenced her to a month’s detention for contempt of court.

Under international human rights standards on the right to life, states have a heightened obligation to protect the lives of individuals the state has detained. Deaths in custody create a presumption of state liability for the arbitrary deprivation of life, that can only be rebutted by a proper investigation, through prompt, impartial and effective investigations into the circumstances and causes of such deaths.

Thai authorities have carried out a wide-ranging crackdown on peaceful protest and online discussion since overwhelmingly peaceful pro-democracy reform protests started in July 2020.

Officials have used vaguely worded provisions of laws - on security, the monarchy and computer crimes - as instruments of repression and are interpreting the peaceful exercise of human rights as a threat to security or public order, or offence to the monarchy.

Prominent protesters have also faced months of arbitrary pre-trial detention, with their right to temporary release on bail denied, or under restrictive bail conditions which stringently limit their human rights to freedom of movement, expression and peaceful assembly. Thai officials continue to increase their judicial harassment of people engaging in acts of perceived public dissent.

United Nations human rights experts, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as governments during the Universal Periodic Reviews, have made longstanding calls on the Thai government to stop arbitrarily detaining individuals and imposing excessive restrictions on the legitimate exercise of the human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

 

For further information contact: press@amnesty.org