Chukiat ‘Justin’ Sangwong, a leading figure in the Thai pro-democracy protests, has tested positive for Covid-19 while in detention as a suspect under the lèse majesté law, the Department of Corrections confirmed on 24 April.
According to the Department, Chukiat was taken to the Medical Correctional Institution on 24 April for treatment and his contacts have been isolated.
Thawatchai Chaiwat, the Department spokesperson, said that 9 officers and 26 detainees had been in contact with Chukiat. However, they have all tested negative according to results released on 25 April.
The detainees in close contact with Chukiat include leading figures in the democratic movement such as Parit Chiwarak, Anon Nampa, and Chai-amorn Kaewwiboonpan. Had they been infected, they would have added to the total of 1 officer and 9 detainees infected in Bangkok Remand Prison.
Among people at risk, Parit Chiwarak is of special concern. He was reaching the 42nd day of a hunger strike to demand the release of political activists on bail.
Sureerat Chiwarak, his mother, said before her son’s test result came out that she was consulting with his lawyer to immediately request bail again. Bail for Parit has already been rejected 10 times for what the court claims to be the possibility of re-offending against the sedition and lèse majesté laws.
Another leading figure of the democratic movement, Jatupat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa, slept near to Chukiat before he was released on bail on 23 April. He and the court officers who processed his bail were ordered by the Department to report their health status and refrain from travelling.
Even though all others have tested negative, Thawatchai said that they will be put into 14-day quarantine just to make sure they are safe. To step up control measures, the Department will check a new detainee twice before and after a 3-day quarantine, seek vaccines for correctional officers, and check them every 14 days to ensure their safety.
In the wake of Chukiat’s infection, the Department said on 24 April that they will also prepare a field hospital to isolate those infected with mild or no symptoms.
Chukiat Sangwong, also known as Justin for wearing a crop cop like Justin Bieber to pro-democracy protests in Thailand, was arrested on 23 March under the lèse majesté law. Police claimed that he committed a lèse majesté offence when the student group REDEM held a protest on 20 March.
Concern over the outbreak in Bangkok Remand Prison was raised when Anon Nampa told his lawyer to spread the news on social media on 22 April. Anon’s lawyer also said on social media that Chukiat’s friends were also worried that he might be infected.
In response, Bangkok Remand Prison released a statement saying that Chukiat had a high fever on 18 April. However, it was found on 21 April that he had an abscess at the nape of his neck and was treated accordingly.
There was no mention of Chukiat being infected except that he, like other new detainees, was already under 14-day quarantine and examined medically twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. Bangkok Remand Prison said that the measures were in compliance with orders of the Department of Corrections and the Ministry of Justice. However, the situation changed when the Chukiat’s positive result came out.
In Thailand, Chukiat is one among many who have been infected in the third outbreak. According to the government’s daily reports, Thailand saw an exponential increase from 26 new cases on 1 April to 2859 on 24 April. This time the outbreak is more worrying due to the severity of new variants and the government’s delay in delivering vaccines. Among the first cases in the third outbreak was Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob, who allegedly became infected in contact with female entertainers at a night club in Thong Lor.
The report was corrected on 28 April. Chukiat is not known for his love of Justin Timberlake but for wearing a crop top to Thai pro-democracy protests like Justin Bieber.