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OpinionsActivist’s death brings succession crisis in Thai Monarchy to the fore

Activist’s death brings succession crisis in Thai Monarchy to the fore


By Arun Kumar Shrivastav

Thai pro-democracy activist Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom died after a 110-day hunger strike on May 14, protesting her detention and that of other activists. Amnesty condemned the death and urged Thai authorities to launch an investigation. Sanesangkhom, a 28-year-old online English tutor, had been held since January 26 on charges related to royal defamation and sedition. Amnesty International's Thailand Director, Piyanut Kotsan, called her death a “shocking reminder” of the Thai government's crackdown on dissent and demanded the release of all unjustly detained activists.


Sanesangkhom's hunger strike targeted the denial of bail for her and other pro-democracy activists. Kotsan emphasized Thailand's obligation to protect detainees' rights and called for an independent investigation into Sanesangkhom's death. Amnesty International also urged the international community to pressure Thailand to end its repression and respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.


Following her death, diplomats from several countries, including Belgium, Denmark, the European Union, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, Sweden, Ireland, Luxembourg, and the UK expressed condolences on social media. German Ambassador Ernst Reichel expressed particular concern. He described Netiporn's death as a tragedy, highlighting that she died young, in pre-trial detention, and after a hunger strike. Ambassador Reichel emphasized his hope that political disagreements wouldn't result in such extreme measures.


Netiporn is the second person detained under Thailand's royal defamation law to die in custody. Rights groups are calling for the law's abolition and an end to prosecutions for exercising free speech. Student organizations condemned the government for “judicial harassment” and a broken justice system. They called for reform and amnesty for those prosecuted for political expression.


Vigils were held in Netiporn's memory across Thailand. Rights groups vowed to continue her fight for democracy. Across Thailand, mourners gathered in candlelit vigils to honor pro-democracy activist Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom. The vigils also demanded the release of political prisoners.


At Thammasat University Hospital, where Netiporn was pronounced dead, friends and activists held a vigil. They lit candles and displayed of Netiporn. Another vigil took place outside the South Bangkok Criminal Court. Similar vigils occurred in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phrae, Lampang, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Khon Kaen. Activists and citizens paid their respects and called for change.


Participants held pictures of Netiporn, chanted slogans, and displayed banners calling for the repeal of the royal defamation law and the release of pre-trial detainees.


Lawyer Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), spoke at the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court vigil. She demanded the release of political prisoners, reform of the justice system, and amnesty for those prosecuted for political expression.


Pakawadee Weerapaspong, a writer and activist, condemned Netiporn's death and criticized the royal defamation charge as an unfair reason for detention. She called for reform and a reevaluation of Thailand's approach to dissent.


The activist's death comes at a time when Thailand is facing a succession crisis in the Thai monarchy. King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand, also known as Rama X, has led a colourful and controversial life, with his current net-worth estimated to be over $42 billion and 5000 dedicated military personnel for his security. Born in 1952, he spent much of his youth outside Thailand, receiving in England and military training in Australia. Despite rumours of misconduct, he ascended the throne in 2016 after his father's death. His personal life has been marked by multiple marriages and reported relationships with mistresses.


Notably, he recently married his long-time partner, General Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, officially making her queen. However, his reign has faced scrutiny, with protests calling for the reversal of increased royal powers and the scrapping of lese majeste laws. Additionally, succession concerns have emerged due to his son Vacharaesorn's secret marriage to an American woman, complicating the line of succession according to Thai law.


Adding to these disconcerting stories, Vacharaesorn Vivacharawongse, the son of King Vajiralongkorn who lived in exile in the United States, returned in August last year to Bangkok after twenty-seven years, sparking speculation about a succession plan. This speculation intensified after Princess Bajrakitiyabha, previously considered a potential successor, fell into a coma. With no formal heir named, the succession dilemma looms large.


Vacharaesorn's return raises questions about his potential role in the succession, particularly as none of the king's legitimate children have married. Despite being disowned in the past, Vacharaesorn's politically active background and recent interactions with Thai communities in the US suggest a potential for him to be considered. His carefully orchestrated visit to Thailand, including public appearances and criticisms of monarchy rituals, hints at political implications. The palace's secretive nature adds complexity, with different factions supporting different candidates.


Vacharaesorn's future direction could impact Thai significantly, potentially leading to either democratization or further authoritarianism, depending on his stance towards reforming the monarchy. (IPA Service)



The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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