Thai activist Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak in hospital after prison hunger strike — an embarrassment for Thailand

As Thai authorities’ support of the country’s lèse-majesté law is seen as an embarrassment for the country within the international community, and an enormous detriment to human rights in Thailand, news out of Thailand today is Thai activist Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak is in hospital after a prison hunger strike lasting 46 days.

Chiwarak was admitted to Ramathibodi Hospital after his health deteriorated due to his weight dropping from 107 kilogrammes to 94.5, and his body appearing to show signs of a mineral deficiency.

His lawyers now fear his condition may be life threatening as, according to them, he is unable to walk upstairs unaided and has fainted several times.


Who is Parit ‘Penguine’ Chiwarak?

Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak is a protest leader who was jailed after lèse-majesté charges were leveled against him due to his participation in an anti-government rally at Sanam Luang last September.

Chiwarak and six other protest leaders were jailed earlier this year, and have since been denied bail nine times. Another protester Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul is also currently on a hunger strike.

Chiwarak was sent to Ramathibodi Hospital today after a saline drip had been removed from his body and he had complained of pain.

Corrections Department spokesperson Thawatchai Chaiwat says he will be returned to prison as soon as his health improves.

Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), who is closely monitoring the case, commented on Twitter that while in hospital Chiwarak would also be given parenteral nutrition and an endoscopy, due to blood being seen in his stool.


Parit Chiwarak’s hunger strike began in March

Parit’s hunger strike began on March 16th, after yet another denial of bail. In his demands at the time, he asked for bail for anyone in prison accused of lèse-majesté.

His latest request for bail was denied again yesterday.

In a statement about her son, the protest leader’s mother Sureerat Chiwarak, who shaved her head in her own protest at her son’s treatment by Thai authorities, asked people “Please be witness to this. I am just a woman, a mother. My child has not committed a crime, he just thinks differently. He has not received justice, and he is now seriously ill”.

Meanwhile, the preeminent international human rights organization Human Rights Watch says this about today’s Thailand:

Thailand faced a serious human rights crisis in 2020. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s government imposed restrictions on civil and political rights, particularly freedom of expression, arbitrarily arrested democracy activists, engineered the dissolution of a major opposition political party on politically motivated grounds, and enforced a nationwide state of emergency, using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext.

As for Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, Human Rights Watch states:

Thai authorities were previously instructed by the king to avoid using the lèse-majesté (insulting the monarchy) provision under article 112 of the penal code. But on November 19, Prime Minister Prayut ordered Thai authorities to use “all laws and all articles” against pro-democracy protesters, bringing back lèse-majesté prosecution after a three-year hiatus. Since then, at least 14 activists have been charged under article 112 for making onstage speeches or online commentary demanding reform of the monarchy.

Meanwhile, these are the countries that still have some form of lèse-majesté on their books. According to critics, all of whom should have removed this law decades ago if they wish to be viewed as modern societies.

Particularly as, in the case of Thailand and several others, the lèse-majesté laws are often used only to silence political dissent.