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Ailing detained Thai activist denied family access

Pro-democracy campaigner Thatchapong Kaedam contracted Covid-19 in prison after his arrest

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: September 03, 2021 04:48 AM GMT

Updated: September 03, 2021 04:57 AM GMT

Ailing detained Thai activist denied family access

Protesters attend a demonstration in Bangkok on Sept. 2 calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha over the Thai government's handling of the Covid-19 crisis. (Photo: AFP)

The relatives of a detained Thai pro-democracy activist have been denied access to him even as he is suffering from a severe case of Covid-19, according to rights advocates.

Thatchapong Kaedam, a prominent political activist who has been campaigning against Thailand’s military-allied government for years, was detained by police on Aug. 9 following a protest in front of the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters in Bangkok in which demonstrators demanded the release of 32 activists who had been detained during an earlier rally.

He was charged with violating an emergency decree that prohibits large gatherings as well as other crimes and has since been in prison where he has contracted Covid-19.

His relatives say he has difficulty breathing and needs a ventilator, but a senior prison official said Thatchapong, although suffering from a fever, has been doing well and responding to antiviral treatment.

However, this official account could not be verified as both Thatchapong’s relatives and his lawyer have been unable to speak with the doctor treating him, it has been alleged.

Several pro-democracy activists detailed in recent months on various charges have contracted Covid-19 in prison.

Thailand’s prisons have long been notorious for chronic overcrowding and unsanitary conditions where airborne diseases like Covid-19 can spread with ease

Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, a university student, caused a nationwide outcry in May after revealing in a post on Twitter that she had contracted Covid-19 while being detained at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution in Bangkok.

Following the revelation, the Department of Corrections was forced to admit that thousands of inmates at several prisons had been infected with the potentially deadly virus.

In the Bangkok Remand Prison alone, as many as 1,795 out of 3,274 prisoners, or 72 percent of the total number of inmates, were found to be infected.

Thailand’s prisons have long been notorious for chronic overcrowding and unsanitary conditions where airborne diseases like Covid-19 can spread with ease.

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About 310,000 people are serving time in Thailand’s prisons, and many are believed to have been infected with Covid-19 over the past few months during a raging outbreak that has been taking its toll on the Southeast Asia nation. 

In June, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime provided 1.5 million surgical masks to the Department of Corrections to ensure prisoners could better protect themselves against being infected.

In an open letter issued in July, meanwhile, the International Federation of Human Rights urged Thai Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin to “take all immediate and necessary steps, including at the policy level, to tackle the ongoing overcrowding in prisons.”

Thai authorities have taken some steps to address the medical crisis in correctional facilities.

However, Pavinee Chanchuea, a relative of Thatchapong’s, has accused the Department of Corrections of trying to conceal details of infected political prisoners’ conditions from their families, according to Prachatai, an independent news site that regularly reports on the travails of democracy activists.

“Thatchapong needs a ventilator while sleeping and after physical activities. He also said he has high blood pressure, a low platelet count and a weakened immune system that puts him at risk of infection,” the news site reported on Sept. 2.

“Pavinee said that this information was not included in the Department of Corrections’ press releases, and she only found out because Thatchapong’s doctor informed him [in prison],” it added. 

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