Updated: May 03, 2021 04:59 AM GMT
A pro-democracy protester prepares to throw a water balloon during an anti-government demonstration calling for the release of detained political activists outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on May 2. (Photo: AFP)
A prominent young pro-democracy activist is in hospital, reportedly in a critical condition, after a 46-day hunger strike he staged in prison in protest at Thai authorities’ refusal to grant bail to him and other political dissidents.
Parit Chiwarak, a 23-year-old university student popularly known by his nickname Penguin, was arrested earlier this year over his leadership role in student-led street protests last year during which participants called for political reforms and urged Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who seized power in a coup in May 2014, to resign.
Parit, a political science major at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, is facing 18 separate charges including royal defamation and sedition. If convicted, the student could face decades in prison.
The activist, who has been in prison for nearly three months, decided to go on a hunger strike on March 16, a few weeks after his arrest, in protest at what he said was unjust treatment by the authorities. He was hospitalized late last week after his condition deteriorated.
Another jailed leader of the youth-led protest movement, a female university student called Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, has likewise been on hunger strike as seven young activists, including Parit and Panusaya, remain in prison, awaiting their trials.
The Criminal Court in Bangkok denied bail to the seven young activists for the ninth time on April 29 in what Thai rights activists have called a blatant violation of their rights.
I would like everyone to remember this and fight for justice
A day after the decision, Parit’s mother, Sureerat Chiwarak, shaved her head in protest and stood outside the courthouse in front of news reporters.
“I am just one woman. I am someone’s mother who loves her son very much,” Sureerat said.
“My son did nothing wrong. My son just thinks differently. My son is not free to speak. My son is being held in prison without being found guilty. My son has not received justice in fighting his case.
“I would like everyone to remember this and fight for justice. We have to get rid of injustice from our society. Do not let anyone have to face the same loss or pain our family is facing.”
A group of pro-democracy protesters staged several rallies last weekend outside the courthouse and other venues in Bangkok, demanding that the jailed activists be released.
They threatened to escalate their protests in the coming days and weeks unless Parit and the other incarcerated leaders of the grassroots movement were granted bail.
However, there appeared to be little indication that the authorities would compromise.
There’s no justice in this country and that’s why we need to protest even if they arrest us and keep us locked up
“This tells you a lot about the Thai legal system,” a Chinese-Thai Catholic university student, who supports the youth-led pro-democracy movement and asked not to be named, told UCA News.
“[Alleged] murderers are allowed out on bail, but young people like Penguin and Rung who did nothing wrong continue to be locked up,” the student said, referring to Parit and Panusaya by their nicknames.
“There’s no justice in this country and that’s why we need to protest even if they arrest us and keep us locked up.”