On April 25, 2023, Freedom Now and the international law firm Dechert LLP filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of student activist Tantawan Tuatulanon. The petition alleges that Thailand’s detention of Tuatulanon and ongoing judicial proceedings against her infringe on her fundamental right to freedom of expression, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“In recent years, the government of Thailand has increasingly used its lèse-majesté law to criminalize freedom of expression. The persecution of Tantawan Tuatulanon is emblematic of this strategy to silence government critics,” said Freedom Now Legal Officer Adam Lhedmat. “We are confident that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will conclude that Tantawan’s fundamental human rights have been violated and that proceedings against her should be halted.”

Prior to her arrest, Tuatulanon was studying abroad in Singapore. She returned to Thailand shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began and became active with several pro-democracy groups, including WeVolunteer, Draconis Revolution, and Thaluwang.

On February 26, 2022, Tuatulanon was arrested for conducting a poll on whether the country’s lèse-majesté laws should be repealed.  She was briefly detained and fined.

A week later Tuatulanon was arrested while livestreaming on a royal motorcade route.  The audio of her livestream captures her questioning the way that police had cleared an encampment of farmers who were staging a months-long protest on the government’s inaction on agricultural debt.  On the livestream, Tuatulanon made criticisms of the monarchy and the government’s treatment of the farmers. She was subsequently arrested, and the next day was charged under the lèse-majesté laws, on the grounds that her comments could incite someone to hate the King. She was granted bail on certain conditions, including that she refrained from using social media to incite others to protest or to join in any political protests.

On April 20, 2022, Tuatulanon’s bail was revoked on grounds that she violated her bail conditions. The following week she began a hunger strike to protest her pre-trail detention. Attempts to re-instate her bail were rejected until May 27, when she was granted conditional release for 30 days. However, the conditions resembled house arrest. She was not permitted to leave her residence unless by court order and was required to wear an ankle bracelet that monitored her location.

On January 16, 2023, Tuatulanon appeared in court to appeal her bail conditions, to demand the release on bail of other political activists, and call for the adoption of judicial and legal reforms, including revocation of laws on sedition and lese-majeste. Tuatulanon was detained as a result.  Two days later she began another hunger strike. On January 20, 2023, Tuatulanon collapsed, and was transferred to the Thammasat University Hospital.  Her condition was described as “very weak” by her lawyer, as Tuatulanon was unable to move without support, burdened by severe abdominal pain and swollen lymph nodes, and was at risk of cardiac arrest due to malnutrition and lack of potassium.  On February 24, 2023, Tuatulanon was permitted to check herself out of the hospital to continue peaceful protests in front of the Supreme Court.  However, the following week she was returned to the hospital because of her worsened health condition caused by the hunger strike.  After announcing an end to her hunger strike on March 11, 2023, Tuatulanon was discharged several weeks later.

Following her hospital discharge, Tuatulanon has been released pending trial.  Currently, her trial is scheduled to begin in August 2023. If convicted, she faces up to fifteen years in prison.