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A monarchy reform activist in Thailand dies in detention after a monthslong hunger strike

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A monarchy reform activist in Thailand dies in detention after a monthslong hunger strike
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News

A monarchy reform activist in Thailand dies in detention after a monthslong hunger strike

2024-05-15 13:32 Last Updated At:13:40

BANGKOK (AP) — A young activist in Thailand who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for advocating reform of the country’s monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. The death sparked fresh calls for reviewing the judicial process that allows political offenders accused of nonviolent offenses to be held for extended periods in prison ahead of being tried.

Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom, 28, was a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family. The group’s name can be loosely translated as “breaking through the palace,” a reference to its open criticism of Thailand’s monarchy.

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Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK (AP) — A young activist in Thailand who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for advocating reform of the country’s monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. The death sparked fresh calls for reviewing the judicial process that allows political offenders accused of nonviolent offenses to be held for extended periods in prison ahead of being tried.

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold a portrait of Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold a portrait of Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

She appears to be the first political activist in Thailand to have died after carrying on a partial hunger strike for 110 days while she was awaiting trial.

The Thailand branch of the human rights group Amnesty International described Netiporn’s death as “a shocking reminder that Thai authorities are denying activists their right to temporary release on bail and using detention to silence the peaceful expression of dissent.”

“This is a grim day for Thai society, highlighting the severe judicial harassment and the justice system’s failure to recognize basic human rights,” the group said. “Speaking out should not lead to death; it should inspire change."

The popular opposition Move Forward party, which has also campaigned for reform of the monarchy, issued a statement saying that people should not be jailed for holding political opinions and that persons accused of political offenses should be granted bail.

Foreign diplomats and ambassadors from the U.S., U.K., Canada, the EU and elsewhere offered their condolences after Netiporn's death. German Ambassador Ernest Reichel wrote on social platform X: “My wish would be that political disagreements are not taken to such bitter and extreme consequences."

Thailand’s monarchy until recent years was widely considered an untouchable, bedrock element of Thai nationalism. Criticism of the monarchy was taboo, and insulting or defaming key royal family members remains punishable by up to 15 years in prison under a lese majeste law, usually referred to as Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code.

Student-led pro-democracy protests beginning in 2020 openly criticized the monarchy, leading to vigorous prosecutions under the law, which had previously been relatively rarely employed. Critics say the law is often wielded as a tool to quash political dissent.

The protest movement faded due to government harassment and the coronavirus pandemic, but Netiporn was one of more than 270 activists charged with the royal defamation law since the protests in 2020-21.

Netiporn suffered cardiac arrest early Tuesday morning, and medical teams spent several hours trying to resuscitate her. She was pronounced dead just before noon, according to a statement from the Corrections Department.

She had two charges of lese majeste pending against her, both of them involving conducting polls in public spaces in 2022 asking people’s opinion about the royal family, according to the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Her release on bail was revoked in January due to her participation in a political rally last year.

Netiporn started her hunger strike after she was detained in January. The Corrections Department said she began eating and drinking water again after April 4. However, the human rights lawyer group’s latest update on her condition on April 25 said she was still fasting.

Two fellow jailed activists are also carrying out hunger strikes. Both are Thaluwang members who were also charged with lese majeste for agitating for reform of the monarchy, and they started their hunger strikes about a month after Netiporn.

Netiporn’s lawyers had applied for her to be transferred from the Central Corrections Hospital to Thammasat University Hospital but she was never granted a prolonged stay there for treatment, said her lawyer, Kritsadang Nutcharas. The authorities said they would establish the legal cause of death.

“Does it seem like there’s standard treatment in the Thai justice system when we compare what these kids are going through with their political charges and what some prominent adults have gone through?” Kritsadang said. He was making an apparent reference to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned from exile last year to serve a prison term in corruption-related cases but never spent a single night in jail on grounds of ill health.

At a candlelight vigil Tuesday night outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court, another activist facing lese majeste charges, Panusaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul, decried the failure of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s government to ease the plight of political prisoners.

“Do you need someone to die first before you think of doing something?” she said. “How many of us have to die before you start listening to us? We are not people to be scared of. We’re just ordinary people who are asking for something. So this is very brutal.”

Thaluwang has held high-profile protests calling not only for reform of the monarchy, but also changes in the justice system and an end to political persecution through the courts. It has also called for rejection of Thailand’s application to join the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Thailand announced its bid for a seat on the rights council for the 2025-2027 term after the current government took office last year, seeking to show its commitment to protect human rights. Critics charge that the reality of law enforcement in the country strongly contradicts its ambition to be recognized by the international community as a human rights defender.

Human Rights Watch has raised concerns over “the Thai government’s use of arbitrary arrest and pretrial detention to punish critics of the monarchy for their views,” which it says is a violation of their rights under international human rights law.

Follow AP's Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold candles during a vigil for Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family, outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold a portrait of Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai activists hold a portrait of Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family outside of Criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Netiporn who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for her involvement in protests calling for reform of the country's monarchy system died Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A man who once described himself as “king” of a notoriously violent gang in Haiti and is linked to the kidnapping of 16 U.S. citizens was sentenced to 35 years in prison Monday in a federal court in Washington, D.C.

Germine Joly, best known as “Yonyon,” had pleaded guilty in late January to weapons smuggling and the laundering of ransoms related to the U.S. citizens kidnapped in October 2021, bringing his trial to a halt.

The case against Joly is part of an ongoing push by U.S. authorities to stem the smuggling of weapons from the U.S. to Haiti, where gangs control 80% of the capital and have left more than 580,000 people homeless as they continue to pillage neighborhoods in a quest to seize more territory. U.S. officials also are trying to crack down on the kidnapping of U.S. citizens in Haiti, whose ransoms finance the purchase of illegal arms and ammunition.

“The leaders of violent gangs in Haiti that terrorize Americans citizens in order to fuel their criminal activity will be met with the full force of the Justice Department," U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.

Joly, 31, had asked the judge for leniency and forgiveness, with his attorneys requesting that he receive no more than 17.5 years in prison. The attorneys did not immediately return messages for comment.

Joly was co-leader of the 400 Mawozo, which translates roughly to “400 Simpletons,” one of Haiti’s most powerful gangs. It controls part of Croix-des-Bouquets, a neighborhood in the eastern region of the Port-au-Prince capital and surrounding areas. It also operates along a route that connects the capital with the border city of Jimaní in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

The gang is known for its high record of kidnappings as well as trafficking of drugs and weapons, killings, rapes and armed robberies, among other things, according to a U.N. report.

“The 400 Mawazo gang not only wreaks havoc in its own communities but targets innocent Americans living and traveling in Haiti," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

Three shipments containing smuggled weapons and ammunition arrived in Haiti in 2021, shortly before the gang kidnapped 17 missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens, the U.N. report noted. The weapons alone were estimated to cost roughly $28,000, it added.

“This single case indicates that 400 Mawozo is able to mobilize significant amounts of money to acquire firearms and ammunition,” the report stated.

The gang is still led by Joseph Wilson, best known as “Lanmò San Jou,” which means “Death has no date,” and it is an ally of G-Pep, a powerful gang federation.

Haitian authorities announced a warrant for Wilson in late 2020, but he has yet to be detained.

Meanwhile, Haitian police arrested Joly in 2014, and in 2018, a local judge sentenced him to life in prison, from where authorities said he still directed gang operations, including the October 2021 kidnapping of 12 adults and five minors after they visited an orphanage in the Croix-des-Bouquets area. The group included 16 Americans and one Canadian who worked with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.

The organization said 12 of the captive missionaries escaped, with five others previously freed, although it’s unclear if any ransom was paid.

In 2022, the U.S. government extradited Joly.

Joly’s former girlfriend, Eliande Tunis of Pompano Beach, Florida, had been sentenced earlier this month to 12.5 years in prison. Tunis, 46, had pleaded guilty in late January to the same charges Joly faced.

U.S. federal prosecutors had accused Joly, Tunis and two other suspects of buying and supplying weapons to the 400 Mawozo gang from at least March through November 2021. The weapons included those designed for “military and close-quarters combat” such as AK-47s, AR-15s and a .50 caliber rifle, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The agency said that Joly, who was in prison in Haiti at the time, directed operations using unmonitored cell phones. He still faces separate charges in another case related to the kidnappings of the U.S. citizens.

US judge sentences Germine Joly, former leader of a powerful gang in Haiti, to 35 years in prison

US judge sentences Germine Joly, former leader of a powerful gang in Haiti, to 35 years in prison

US judge sentences Germine Joly, former leader of a powerful gang in Haiti, to 35 years in prison

US judge sentences Germine Joly, former leader of a powerful gang in Haiti, to 35 years in prison

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

FILE - Kenya police patrol the streets of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Hundreds of Kenyan police officers are leaving for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against powerful gangs. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

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