Thailand: Hold authorities accountable for the death of Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom

Thailand: Hold authorities accountable for the death of Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom - Civic Space

Photo by Oil Sitthichai

Thai pro-democracy activist Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom, 28, died on 14 May in detention at the Central Women’s Correctional Institute Hospital. She had been detained since January 26 for contempt of court for climbing onto the fence surrounding the Bangkok South Criminal Court to communicate with a fellow defendant charged under Article 112 the Criminal Code, the lèse majestée provision. Before she died, she had been on a 110 day hunger strike in detention to end the arbitrary detention of all pro-democracy activists in Thailand.

“Bung’s death is a horrifying indictment of Thailand’s justice system, where young activists face lethal consequences for demanding basic freedoms while those in power evade accountability,” said Senior Director of Programmes David Diaz-Jogeix at ARTICLE 19. “Thai authorities are denying pro-democracy activists their free expression rights in a blatant attempt to silence dissent.”

Initially, Bung was charged for conducting a public poll on inconveniences caused by royal motorcades in Bangkok on 8 February 2022. Bung faced 7 charges, including two under the lèse majesté provision. She previously spent 94 days in jail and conducted a hunger strike before being released on bail. Her bail was revoked on 26 January 2024.

Bung’s hunger strike was meant to demand reform of the justice system, including allowing bail for Bung and her fellow pro-democracy activists in detention and to repeal the lèse majesté provision under which Bung and others were charged. The lèse majesté provision, which punishes defamation of the royal family with up to 15 years in prison per charge. The government’s aggressive application of Section 112 on youth has been apparent since the student-led pro-democracy protests beginning in 2020, since then over 270 activists have been charged under this repressive law according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

“This 28-year-old woman’s imprisonment and subsequent death in reprisal for her activism highlights Thailand’s systemic failures to comply with its human rights obligations and the brutality of its ongoing employment of lèse-majesté as a political weapon,” said David. 

UN experts have repeatedly condemned the use of Section 112 and the heavy penalties handed down for lèse-majesté offences. In 2017, David Kaye, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of freedom of opinion and expression called on Thailand to stop using the lèse-majesté provision, stating that it is incompatible with international human rights law and has ‘no place in a democratic country’. In December 2020, Ravina Shamdasani, an OHCHR spokesperson, raised concerns about the Thai government’s use of lèse-majesté charges against participants in the protest movement, including children. Eight countries called on the Thai government to repeal, amend, or discontinue the use of the lèse-majesté provision during Thailand’s 2016 Universal Periodic Review.

ARTICLE 19 reiterates its call for the immediate repeal of section 112 of the Criminal Code and for Thailand to bring its legal framework into line with its international human rights obligations.  Additionally, Thai authorities should  immediately and unconditionally release all individuals detained under its provisions. Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom’s death should prompt immediate domestic and international scrutiny of Thailand’s human rights record. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Thai government to align its actions with its aspirations for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council by demonstrating a genuine commitment to the protection of free expression and the rule of law.

“ARTICLE 19 stands in solidarity with Bung and all Thai activists who continue to risk their lives in the fight for democratic reform,” said David. “We urge the international community to hold the Thai government accountable for its human rights abuses and to support the Thai people’s call for justice and freedom.”