Student activists contract Covid-19 in detention

Friends of detained student activists are demanding that they be transferred to a civilian hospital, after it was reported that they have contracted Covid-19 while in detention and are not receiving proper care.

Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (third from left) and Sureerat Chiwarak (second from right) with supporters in front of the Ministry of Justice (Picture from UFTD)

The student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), along with activist Parit Chiwarak’s mother Sureerat Chiwarak, went to the Ministry of Justice on Monday (23 August) to inquire about the progress in transferring detained student activists Parit Chiwarak and Sirichai Natueng transferred to Thammasat University Hospital, after it was reported that they have tested positive for Covid-19 while in detention.

It was also reported that they are not receiving proper care at the Medical Correctional Institution. Sureerat previously said that Parit needed an oxygen concentrator, and that other patients had to give him first aid when he started bleeding from the site of his IV. He did not have clean clothes, and the room he was put into was full of mosquitos. Sirichai and activist Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, who also tested positive for Covid-19, also said that their room has mosquitos, and they are concerned that they will contract dengue fever.

Sureerat said that Parit has a pre-existing respiratory condition, and that medical staff gave him the wrong medication for his condition. The staff also once forgot to give Parit his medication, and no one came to see him when he had an asthma attack.

Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), said that the lawyers filed a request with the Department of Corrections on 16 August to have the activists transferred to civilian hospitals, and Thammasat University has issued a letter to the director of the Medical Correctional Institution certifying Parit and Sirichai’s student status and stating that Thammasat University Hospital is willing to have them transferred. However, the Medical Correctional Institution claimed that they are capable of taking care of Covid-19 patients.

Poonsuk said that Parit told him that several patients in his room have died since he was admitted, and that the condition was that of a prison, not a hospital. He said that the rooms are locked in the evening. Dead bodies remain in their beds until morning, and even if patients ring the alarm, no staff come to take care of them.

Thammasat University’s Vice Rector for Student Affairs Roj Khun-Anake has also submitted a letter to the Director-General of the Department of Corrections requesting that Parit and Sirichai be transferred to Thammasat University Hospital. The letter stated that the University has contacted the Hospital about the transfer, and that the Hospital is willing to admit the two students.

On Friday (20 August), Sureerat and student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, along with other UFTD activists, joined Resistance Citizens’ “Stand against detention” event in front of the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court, during which they stood in front of the court for 1 hour and 12 minutes to demand the release of detained activists.

Panusaya said that she is also calling for activists who contracted Covid-19 in detention to be transferred for treatment at Thammasat University Hospital, which she said is better equipped to treat Covid-19 patients, and that it is a Thammasat student’s right to be treated at the University’s Hospital.

Sureerat said that she is concerned about her son’s condition, as he has not fully recovered from a hunger strike while in detention earlier this year and has pre-existing conditions. She said that no one should be detained pending trial, and no one should face charges for exercising their right to freedom of expression, so she is demanding that all detained activists be released.

10 activists are currently in detention for participating in recent protests: Anon Nampa, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, Sam Samat, Parit Chiwarak, Sirichai Natueng, Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, Natchanon Pairoj, Panupong Jadnok, Thatchapong Kaedam and Panadda Sirimasakul. They have been denied bail on the grounds that they are likely to violate the law and cause further disorder if released. Several of the activists are facing charges relating to violation of the Communicable Diseases Act and the Emergency Decree, declared in late March 2020 to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Six of the detained activists have since tested positive for Covid-19: Parit, Sirichai, Sam, Phromsorn, Panupong, and Thatchapong. Activist Thanapat Khapeng also tested positive for Covid-19 after he was granted bail.

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