Artists join campaign for release of detained activists

Thai artists are joining the online campaign “#DrawTheJustice” (#วาดความยุติธรรม) to protest against the unfair judicial process and for political activists currently facing charges or detained pending trial to be granted justice.

Sina Wittayawiroj's campaign launch

Illustrator Sina Wittayawiroj launched the campaign on 16 April by posting a drawing of a character holding a sign saying “free our friends,” along with a message inviting other artists and members of the public to join the campaign by drawing pictures of characters doing the three-finger salute, holding campaign placards, or wearing campaign t-shirts “to call for justice from this society in which the justice system is being twisted, the law becomes a political tool, and judges lack humanity,” and sharing them using the hashtag #วาดความยุติธรรม or #DrawTheJustice “until all of our friends who come out to call for democracy receive true justice, and until this state respects the people, who truly hold supreme power in the country.”

Sina said that he previously started a Facebook group called “Illustrators for democracy,” which is a place for pro-democracy artists to share their work. As the group gained members, Sina felt that illustrators can use their art to speak out about political issues. He started with the campaign for artists to post their art along with human rights lawyer Anon Nampa’s petition filed with the Criminal Court in March.

In the petition, Anon raised concerns about the safety of detained activists after prison guards attempted to take activists Panupong Jadnok and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa out of their cell at night, claiming that they had to undergo Covid-19 testing. The petition ended with the message “Please help save our lives.”

Sina said that the campaign, which uses the ending sentence of Anon’s petition as a hashtag, went further than he expected. After seeing Resistant Citizen’s “Stand Against Detention” campaign, in which people protest by standing in silence in front of the Supreme Court for 112 minutes every day to demand the release of detained activists, Sina felt that there should be a similar campaign for illustrators to show that they do not support injustice, so he launched the “Draw the justice” campaign.

A number of artists have since joined Sina’s campaign, including cartoonist Sa-ard, political satirist Kai Maew, the Thai Political Tarot project, and illustrator Siradasue. The hashtag also has over 100 posts on Instagram.

Sina said that he would like the hashtag to become an archive to show that there are artists who support the pro-democracy movement and are ready to speak out. He also said that he thinks a collection of artworks would have more impact than single pieces appearing on social media timelines.

Sina said that he intends to draw and post a picture every day, and that he has ideas of how to bring his work out of cyberspace, such as by making posters, stickers, or handing out prints at protests.   

 “Art is a medium. It is a language. It is something that is already uses communication from one person to another, or from one organization or institution to another person or group of people. It’s like a medium between many things. Suppose we look at history; religions also use art to communicate. Political concepts and ideologies also use art to communicate. I don’t think art is more powerful than other languages, but it’s one option for people like me, like illustrators or artists, to use. If we use it without censoring ourselves, if we use it sincerely, use it to communicate what we really want to say, I think it can also reach our audience. It’s not different from giving speeches. It’s not different from writing a book,” said Sina.

Student activist Parit Chiwarak (centre) is currently detained and is on his 36th day of hunger strike to protest the denial of bail for activists being detained pending trial. 

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), at least 20 people are being detained pending trial on charges relating to political expression, 13 of whom are detained on royal defamation charges under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. Many detainees have also been repeatedly denied bail, including Parit Chiwarak, Anon Nampa, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, Panupong Jadnok, and Piyarat Chongtep.

Parit, Anon, and Somyot have been detained since 9 February. Panusaya, Jatupat, Panupong, and Piyarat have been detained since 8 March. Piyarat was granted bail on 2 April, but was immediately re-arrested and has since been detained at the Kalasin Remand Prison.

To protest against the denial of bail, Parit has been on a hunger strike for the past 36 days, while Panusaya has been on a hunger strike for the past 22 days. Parit’s mother Sureerat Chiwarak requested bail again yesterday (20 April) on the ground that his health is being severely affected by the hunger strike. She said that he is weak and is unable to stand on his own, and because he has asthma, she believes that his life is in danger. She also said that, if the court allows him to be temporarily released, the court may require that he stay in a hospital and must not leave the hospital grounds until his condition improves.

However, the Criminal Court once again denied bail for Parit on the ground that there is no reason to change existing court orders. TLHR reported that the judge who signed the order is Chanathip Muanpawong, who sentenced Ampon Tangnoppakul, or “Uncle SMS,” to 20 years in prison on a royal defamation charge under Section 112 in 2011, after Ampon was accused of sending messages to Somkiat Krongwattanasuk, who was at the time the secretary of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, which were deemed offensive to the King and Queen.

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