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Thai activist dies in jail after hunger strike

A YOUNG activist in Thailand who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for advocating reform of the country’s monarchy died in a prison hospital on Tuesday, officials said. 

The death sparked fresh calls to review the judicial process that allows political offenders accused of non-violent offences to be held for extended periods in prison ahead of being tried.

Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom was a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family. 

The group’s name can be loosely translated as “breaking through the palace,” a reference to its open criticism of Thailand’s monarchy.

She appears to be the first political activist in Thailand to have died after carrying on a partial hunger strike for 110 days while she was awaiting trial.

The Thailand branch of human rights group Amnesty International described Netiporn’s death as “a shocking reminder that Thai authorities are denying activists their right to temporary release on bail and using detention to silence the peaceful expression of dissent.”

The group said: “This is a grim day for Thai society, highlighting the severe judicial harassment and the justice system’s failure to recognise basic human rights. 

“Speaking out should not lead to death, it should inspire change.”

The popular opposition Move Forward party, which has also campaigned for reform of the monarchy, issued a statement saying that people should not be jailed for holding political opinions and that persons accused of political offences should be granted bail.

Student-led pro-democracy protests beginning in 2020 openly criticised the monarchy, leading to vigorous prosecutions under the law, which had previously been relatively rarely employed. 

Critics say the law is often wielded as a tool to quash political dissent.

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