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Detained Thai activist death during hunger strike sparks calls for justice reforms

Bangkok [Thailand]: A young activist in Thailand, Netiporn Sanae-sangkhom who went on a 65-day hunger strike after being jailed for advocating reform of the country's monarchy system, died Tuesday in a prison hospital, CNN reported, citing officials' statement.

Her death has shocked many in the country and sparked renewed calls for reforms to the judicial system that allow activists to be denied bail and held in detention for extended periods ahead of trial.

Netiporn Sanae-sangkhom, 28, had been detained since January 26 and was on a hunger strike until the end of April, according to the legal advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, as per CNN.

The corrections department said, she had experienced cardiac arrest on Tuesday morning and was unresponsive to treatment.

According to CNN, a medical team tried to resuscitate her before transferring her to Bangkok's Thammasat University Hospital but she "did not respond to treatment. An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death," the department added.

Netiporn was a member of the protest group Thalu Wang, which has pushed for reform of Thailand's powerful monarchy and amendment of the country's draconian lese majeste law, in which criticising the king, queen, or heir apparent can lead to a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

The group's name loosely translates to "piercing through the palace," in reference to its drive to hold the monarchy accountable; it campaigns by holding public opinion polls questioning the monarchy's power.

Netiporn had been part of the nationwide 2020 youth-led protests that saw millions of young Thais take to the streets of major cities calling for constitutional, democratic and military reforms, and, for the first time, openly criticising the monarchy and publicly questioning its power and wealth.

Netiporn, who participated in the 2020 youth-led protests in Thailand, joined millions demanding constitutional, democratic, and military reforms for the first time, openly criticising the monarchy and questioning its power and wealth.

While detained, she staged a 65-day hunger strike until April, protesting the detention of political dissidents without bail. She was moved between prison and the hospital due to her declining health.

After Netiporn was sent back to jail on April 4, the Thai Corrections Department said she was able to eat and drink normally, but she was weak and suffered from swollen limbs and anaemia. She had refused to take "minerals and anti-anaemia supplements," the department said.

Additionally, Netiporn faced seven criminal cases, including two charges of draconian lese majeste law, in which criticising the king, queen, or heir apparent can lead to a maximum 15-year prison sentence. She spent 94 days in jail in 2022 and went on a hunger strike before being granted bail, which was later revoked.

Netiporn's death has stunned many in the nation and reignited demands for reforms to the judicial system, which permits activists to be refused bail and detained for prolonged periods before trial.

"This is a shocking reminder that Thai authorities are harshly denying pro-democracy activists their freedom in an apparent bid to silence the peaceful expression of dissent. Many are currently detained, with their right to temporary release on bail denied," said Amnesty International in a statement.

"This tragic incident should serve as a wake-up call to Thai authorities to drop charges against and release all human rights defenders and other people who are unjustly detained."

On Tuesday night, supporters held a candlelight vigil outside the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court. Those attending included Panusaya "Rung" Sithijirawattanakul, a fellow activist who also faces lese majeste charges for her involvement in the 2020 protests. 

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