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Thai monarchy reform activist dies in detention after months of a hunger strike

A young Thai activist who went on a hunger strike after being jailed for advocating reform of the country’s system of monarchy died on Tuesday in a prison hospital, officials said.

Netiporn Sanesangkhom, 28, was a member of the activist group Thaluwang, known for their bold and aggressive campaigns demanding reform of the monarchy and abolition of the law that makes it illegal to defame members of the royal family. The group’s name can be loosely translated to “breaking through the palace,” a reference to its open criticism of Thailand’s monarchy.

She appears to be the first political activist in Thailand to have died after carrying on a hunger strike.

The royal institution until recent years was widely considered an untouchable, bedrock element of Thai nationalism. Criticism of the monarchy was taboo, and insulting or defaming key royal family members remains punishable by up to 15 years in prison under a lèse-majesté law, usually referred to as Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code.

Student-led pro-democracy protests beginning in 2020 openly criticised the monarchy, leading to vigorous prosecutions under the law, which had previously been relatively rarely employed. Critics say the law is often wielded as a tool to quash political dissent.

The protest movement faded due to government harassment and the coronavirus pandemic, but Netiporn was one of more than 270 activists charged with Thailand’s royal defamation law since the protests in 2020-21.

Netiporn suffered cardiac arrest early on Tuesday morning, and medical teams spent several hours trying to resuscitate her. She was pronounced dead just before noon, according to a press release from the Corrections Department.

She had two charges of lèse-majesté pending against