Thai Activist, Hunger-striker Dies in Custody

Photo credit: Thaluwang

Thai democracy activist Nethiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom (28) passed away on 14 May to cardiac arrest at Thammasat University Hospital in Pathum Thani, shortly after ending an over-100-day hunger strike.

While the precise factors leading to Bung’s sudden cardiac event remain undisclosed, speculation arises regarding whether her prolonged hunger strike may have contributed to her declining health.

The woman was detained under charges of royal defamation, also known as “Article 112,” at the Central Women’s Correctional Facility since 26 January after being sentenced by the Bangkok South Criminal Court over a poll on the public’s disruption caused by royal motorcades on 8 February, 2022, and contempt of court. The court revoked her bail in connection with another protest she organized at the Ministry of Culture on 6 August, 2023.

Bung was reportedly associated with the prominent “Talu Wang” (palace-breaking) group, advocating for monarchy reform. 

According to Thai media, Bung initiated a hunger strike on the evening of 27 January to protest against the controversial law that penalizes individuals who criticize the royal family with up to 15 years in prison. Her protest also demanded reform of the justice system.

As she declined food, water, and most medications, her health gradually worsened, prompting authorities to transfer her from the prison to the Central Correctional Hospital in early February. Later, she was moved to Thammasat University Hospital for further treatment before being returned to the prison medical facility. Although she resumed eating in early April, her conditions remained weak, with slight leg swelling, anemia, and low mineral levels, according to local reports. Despite medical recommendations, she refused to take supplements or medications to address these issues.

Meanwhile, her two fellow political activists, Natthanon “Frank” Chaimahabud, and Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, are not giving up their hunger strikes. However, Thai authorities have reported that both Frank and Tawan have recently been accepting some liquids and medicine.

Bung’s hunger strike and death have not only captured attention due to her prominent political advocacy but have also sparked conversations about broader issues concerning detainees’ rights and healthcare standards within detention centers in Thailand.