Anti-Monarchy Activist in Thailand Dies After Hunger Strike

By John Mercury May 15, 2024

To Netiporn Sanesangkhom, the right to dissent and to question Thailand’s powerful monarchy belonged to all Thais. On Tuesday, her crusade to highlight this cause in the face of the country’s strict ban on royal criticism ended in her death.

Ms. Netiporn, also known as Bung, 28, was one of Thailand’s most prominent activists calling for changes to the monarchy. She died after a hunger strike that she began in prison on Jan. 27 to pressure the Thai authorities to put an end to jailing political activists. On Jan. 26, Ms. Netiporn had been sentenced to one month in prison for contempt of court in connection with a protest last year in support of another activist convicted of defaming the monarchy.

For more than two months, Ms. Netiporn refused food, water and all forms of medication. On April 4, she resumed eating and drinking while in the hospital but still rejected electrolytes and vitamins, according to the Department of Corrections. On Tuesday, she went into cardiac arrest and died in the morning.

Ms. Netiporn’s death could pose a public relations challenge for the Thai government, which has been silent about civil society’s demands to weaken the law that makes criticizing the monarchy illegal. The ruling Pheu Thai Party had said during last year’s election that the issue had to be discussed in Parliament, but it backtracked later to say that it would firmly oppose any changes to the law.

On Tuesday, Thailand’s justice minister, Thawee Sodsong, expressed the government’s condolences over Ms. Netiporn’s death and said that an investigation of the cause of her death would be carried out. He conveyed that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin had ordered that “everything be done forthright.” Mr. Thawee said that he would soon visit Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, another detained activist on hunger strike.

Ms. Netiporn’s death comes five months before Thailand bids for a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. The government is also in the midst of negotiations with the European Union for a free-trade agreement that rights activists have sought to tie to democratic commitments.

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