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Bangkok Post reports on Tai’s hunger strike

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Forsaking food for a cause

Panitan Prueksakasemsuk, a student who started a 112-hour hunger strike on Saturday in sympathy for his jailed father, is wondering whether he will follow in his father’s activist footsteps.

* Published: 14/02/2012 at 12:00 AM
* Newspaper section: topstories

Panitan Prueksakasemsuk, son of lese majeste suspect Somyot, has his head shaved to protest against the court’s repeated rejections of his father’s bail requests. The move was part of his hunger strike at Bangkok’s Criminal Court which passed its second day yesterday. SURAPOL PROMSAKA NA SAKOLNAKORN

Even as he passed the second day of his hunger strike in protest at the court’s refusal to grant his father bail on lese majeste charges, Panitan said he never thought he would find himself protesting as his father has done before him.

”It does not mean I don’t like what my father has been doing. Of course, he’s doing things for the good of other people,” Mr Panitan, 20, said yesterday.

”But I never imagined myself in his shoes.”

He had his head shaved Monday to protest against the Criminal Court’s decision to deny, for the eighth time, a bail request by his father, lese majeste defendant Somyot Prueksakasemsuk.

Mr Panitan, a law student at Thammasat University, once dreamed of being a prosecutor or a judge.

Now, as a protester languishing in front of the court, he said he is no longer certain if he can hold on to that dream.

”We cannot choose our fathers,” said Mr Panitan, widely known among his friends and family as ”Tai” meaning ”freedom”.

Mr Panitan has done well academically. His average grade as a second year student is 84% _ one more percentage point and he could receive a bachelor’s degree with honours upon graduation.

”I’m not sure if my surname will count against me,” Mr Panitan said wryly.

His father, Mr Somyot, was a labour activist before he took on a job as publisher of the now-defunct Voice of Thaksin magazine.

He was arrested last April near the Thai-Cambodian border and charged under Section 112 of the Criminal Code over two magazines articles that were deemed critical of the monarchy.

If found guilty, he could be jailed for up to three decades.

Mr Panitan, the elder of Mr Somyot’s two children, began the hunger strike on Saturday at 4pm.

He wrote a letter to the court yesterday _ his second since he started the hunger strike, and shorter than the first.

”To uphold justice that is dear to all citizens in this country and to minimise the impact on [lese majeste] suspects, including my father and other prisoners on the same charge, may I plead for the mercy of the court to grant bail without prejudice or political reasons.

”Otherwise, I will have to continue this peaceful protest for the sake of their basic rights,” Mr Panitan wrote.

Asked how he felt after reaching the half-way mark of his hunger strike, which will end on Thursday at 11am _ the 112 hours being a symbolic reference to Section 112 of the Criminal Code under which his father was charged _ he said he felt numb.

”It is likely to be a long quest for justice for my father and everyone. Their struggle will surely take a long time while the hunger strike and I are but a part of a long and bigger process to strive for justice for all,” said Mr Panitan, trying to keep his eyes closed to block out the noise and dust around him.

He regards himself as an apprentice political activist.

”I might be walking on the same path [as my father] after all. I don’t know. It seems as if society values social and political activists. I might be one,” the young man said.

Mr Panitan is not alone in his protest. Phusadee Ngamkham, the last red-shirted supporter to leave the Ratchaprasong protest site as authorities closed in on May 19, 2010, is also fasting to protest against the court’s bail decision.

A third person, a member of the 24 June Group Against Dictatorship, has shaved his head, but is not joining the hunger strike.

Passersby stop to lend support to the young man and his two friends, who rest in hammocks by day, and sleep in tents at night.

Mr Somyot appeared in court as part of his ongoing lese majeste trial on Monday. Father and son are likely to meet again when Mr Somyot’s hearing resumes at the court in Ratchadapisek next month.

Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Reporter

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