BANGKOK, May 15 — A Thai rights activist detained on royal defamation charges died yesterday while on hunger strike in custody, the kingdom’s department of corrections said.

Netiporn Sanae-sangkhom, an activist from the pro-democracy “Thaluwang” group, had been held in pre-trial detention since January.

She was charged under Thailand’s tough royal insult laws over a royal motorcade protest in 2020 during the peak of the kingdom’s youth-led pro-democracy movement.

Some of the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws protect King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his close family, with each offence carrying a potential 15-year sentence.

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The 28-year-old went on hunger strike shortly after detention to protest against the Thai justice system, and was immediately transferred to the medical correctional hospital over health concerns.

According to the statement released by the department of corrections, Netiporn — also known by her nickname “Boong” — suffered from weak legs and arms as well as anaemia.

She refused “minerals and vitamins” given by the hospital, the statement said.

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“She had a cardiac arrest on Tuesday morning and wasn’t responsive to the treatment, which led her to die peacefully at 11.22am,” the statement said.

It added that the hospital will conduct an autopsy to identify the cause of death.

The South-east Asian regional branch of the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said it was “deeply disturbed” by Netiporn’s death.

“We call for transparent & impartial investigation into her death & care. Freedom of expression & peaceful assembly are fundamental rights,” the office wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

According to the Human Rights Lawyer Association, there are at least two political prisoners in Thailand who went on hunger strike.

In 2023, two Thai hunger strikers held under royal insult law were given temporary release over health concerns. — AFP