Throughout nearly the past two years, Thailand has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic -19 currently in its fifth wave which was made possible by the new variant that can even break through fully vaccinated persons.
Amidst the outbreak whose end is not in sight, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) would like to review the situation of the Covid-19 pandemic in the prison which affects the living condition and the treatment in the field hospital of the Medical Correctional Institution through the accounts of political prisoners and other impacts and risks faced by the political prisoners throughout 2021.
30 political prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 in the prison while being held in custody
From TLHR’s documentation, it was found that as news about the outbreak of Covid-19 in the prison started to escalate in late March 2021 until now, at least 30 individuals held in custody in politically motivated cases have come down with Covid-19 infections while being held in the prison. All of them are ”innocent people” who have been detained pending the trial.
Among them, there are seven detainees who have been bailed out, but have tested positive for Covid-19 resulting from their infection while in custody and who are seeking treatment outside including Pornchai (last name withheld), Port Faiyen or Parinya Cheewinpatomkul, Nuttanon”Frank” Chaimahabut, Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sittijirawattanakul, Thanaphat ”Poon”, a youth activist and two members of the Thalufah including Nawapol ”Dino” Tonngam and Wachirawit ”Peak” Limthanawong.
In addition, the denial of bail of some detainees has led to their reinfection in the prison including the cases of Panupong “Mike” Chadnok and Sam Samet.
In addition, Sakchai “Hia Song” Tangchitsadudi who was detained for allegedly pounding on the prisoner transport vehicle containing Mike and Penguin was initially denied bail. He was only allowed to post bail when the virus had penetrated his lungs after having tested positive for Covid-19 due to his comorbidity. As a result, he had to received treatment in ICU in a hospital outside the prison.
Following is a review of the situation of the Covid-19 infection among the 29 political prisoners.
24 April 2021
Chukiat “Justin” Sangwong, asuspect in Section 112 case has tested positive for Covid-19 while being incarcerated in the Bangkok Remand Prison. His family made six attempts to post his bail, the two of which happened after they have learned that he has come down with Covid-19. The need to ensure his receiving more effective treatment was cited as a reason to apply for his bail. Still, the court denied him bail and even refused to hear the bail applications via video conference. Chukiat was only bailed out after he had recovered from Covid-19. He was allowed bail subject to special restrictions after 70 days of incarceration.
On the same day, Pornchai (last name withheld), a suspect in Section 112 case, was bailed out from the Chiang Mai Central Prison after having been remanded in custody for more than 44 days. He has found he had come down with Covid-19 while being incarcerated in the prison and as a result, he had to receive treatment in a field hospital in Chiang Mai, until he tested negative and was allowed to travel to Bangkok.
5 May 2020
Anon Nampha, a prominent member of the Ratsadon Group and a suspect in Section 112 case, initially received treatment for Covid-19 at the Medical Correctional Institution before his transfer to the Thammasat Hospital. Even though, he has now recovered from Covid-19, he continues to suffer from Long COVID. At present, he is still incarcerated in the prison and continues to be vulnerable to reinfection since he is unvaccinated.
11 May 2020
Port Faiyen, Parinya Cheewinpatomkul,asuspect in Section 112 case has tested positive for Covid-19 while being incarcerated in the Bangkok Remand Prison. During a bail hearing, he told the court about the Covid-19 situation as in Zone 6 where he is incarcerated, more than a half of his cellmates have tested positive for Covid-19 and there were many problems with Covid-19 prevention measures in the prison. After the hearing, the court allowed him to post bail subjecting him to special restriction after having been detained for 67 days.
Four of the five suspects remanded in custody in a case related to the pounding of prisoner transport vehicle which contained Mike and Penguin including Thawat Sookprasert, Sakchai Tangchitsadudi, Somkid Tosoi, and Chaluay Eksak have tested positive for Covid-19. During the bail hearing, Sakchai or Hia Song’s condition was so dire from coming down with Covid-19 until he could not attend the hearing in-person. The court eventually allowed them to post bail subjecting them to special restriction after 78 days of incarceration. Hia Song then required a ventilator and had to receive treatment for several months outside the prison until he partially recovered.
Meanwhile, Nuttanon “Frank” Chaimahabut, a suspect in the same case, after being bailed out, has also tested positive for Covid-19. In sum, all the five suspects who were remanded in custody have come down with Covid-19 infection during their custody.
In addition, on the same day, Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sittijirawattanakul, a prominent member of the Ratsadon Group and a suspect in Section 112 case posted a facebook message to break news that she also got infected with Covid-19 from the Central Women’s Correctional Institution. Four days after having been released on 6 May, she told her parents that she also tested positive for Covid-19. She was incarcerated for altogether 59 days.
13 May 2020
Panupong “Mike” Chadnok, a prominent member of the Ratsadon Group and a suspect in Section 112 casehas tested positive for Covid-19 while being incarcerated in the Bangkok Remand Prison before being transferred to the Thammasat Hospital for treatment.
Later in August, he was remanded again in a case related to the #Mob2Aug20, after which he tested positive for Covid-19 for the second time. At present, he is still detained in the prison and is vulnerable to reinfection since like Anon, he is unvaccinated.
On the same day, ”Praphan” or ”Pah Pia”, 60, a former detainee in a case related to the wearing of black shirt with an emblem of the ‘Organization For a Thai Federation’ also tested positive for Covid-19 while doing her time in the Central Women’s Correctional Institution. After recovery, she was discharged from the prison with a medical certificate to confirm her recovering from Covid-19. But after testing again from a volunteer nurse, she continued to test positive Covid-19 and had to isolate herself for another14 days.
26 May 2020
“Sam Samet”, a stateless man remanded in a case related to the #Mob28Feb tested positive for Covid-19 before his transfer to the Medical Correctional Institution since he vomited blood.
Later, on 19 Aug, he tested positive for Covid-19 for the second time while being held in the Rangsit Temporary Prison, after being bailed out in the case related to #Mob2Aug. At present, Sam remains in the prison and is still unvaccinated similar to Anon and Panupong.
14-16 Aug 2020
“Poon” Thanapat, a youth activist, has tested positive for Covid-19 while being incarcerated from participating in a public assembly to demand the release of members of the Thalufah at the Region 1 Border Police Bureau.
After that, all cellmates with Thanapat were asked to have the testing and it was found that two members of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration including Sirichai “New” Nathuang and Parit ”Penguin” Chiwarak as well as Promsorn ”Fah” Veerathamjaree of the Ratsadon Mutelu group have tested positive for Covid-19Covid-19 pandemic. All of them were then transferred to receive treatment at the Medical Correctional Institution.
25 Aug 2020
Thatchapong ”Boy” Kaedam and Jatupat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa tested positive for Covid-19 while being incarcerated in the Rangsit Temporary Prison after being denied bail in the case stemming from the protests to demand the release of members of the Thalufah at the Region 1 Border Police Bureau.
Previously, Jatupat informed his lawyers during the visitation that he had tested negative while other nine of 12 cellmates including the ones sleeping beside him had all tested positive for Covid-198 and been taken to the Medical Correctional Institution. He was the only held in custody in the Central Correctional Institution. Only a few days later, Jatupat has also tested positive for Covid-19 like other people.
November – December 2021
Since June, the political prisoners detained pretrial or remanded in custody have been bailed out in the first batch.
But in August, the pretrial detention resumed. Throughout November to December 2021, TLHR has received constant reports of at least 11 political prisoners who have tested positive for Covid-19 while being incarcerated in prison including;
- Tawee Tiangvisetor ”Arthit Thalufah”
- Nawapol Tonngam or ”Dino Thalufah”
- Wachirawit Limthanawong or ”Peak Thalufah”
- Paithoon, suspect in the hurling of hand grenade at the crowd control police in Din Daeng on 11 Sept 2021
- Suksan suspect in the hurling of hand grenade at the crowd control police in Din Daeng on 11 Sept 2021
- Kachen suspect in the hurling of Molotov cocktail at the Payathai traffic control box during the #Mob30Sept21
- Jittakorn suspected of having in possession explosive-like objects on 6 Oct 2021
- Jakkri suspected of having in possession of tennis ball bomb on 16 Sept 2021
- Pah James (pseudonym) suspect from Thalugaz
- Yuranan suspected of hurling explosive under the Din Daeng Expressway on 17 Oct 2021
- Theeramet suspected of setting fire on police truck on 28 Sept 2021
At present, at least 15 suspects are being incarcerated in the prison pretrial on cases stemming from their public assemblies and political expression. At least nine among them have come down with Covid-19 and have since recovered. Nevertheless, they continue to be vulnerable to a reinfection.
A account of living condition and treatment of infection in the field hospital
“Covid-19 spread extensively in the prison since around March, and particularly in April. May saw an even worse situation since almost all inmates were infected.”
Recalled by Auntie Praphan, former inmate in the “Organization For a Thai Federation” case who has tested positive for Covid-19 while being incarcerated
Several inmates similarly shared that the outbreak of Covid-19 in the prison is rather severe. Most of the convicted prisoners and inmates in the prison all came down with Covid-19. Praphan recalled the severity that the prison officials had to cook for the inmates themselves since all the inmates designated to cook all tested positive for Covid-19. Particularly in May, a number of them have tested positive for Covid-19, almost all of them. This coincides with the statistics during the time which indicated that at least 28,833 inmates have tested positive for Covid-19 in the prisons throughout the country.
All the four inmates who received treatment from the Medical Correctional Institution in August last year, like “New” Sirichai, Sam Samet, ”Fah” Promsorn and “Penguin” Parit used to recount the living condition, sanitation and their lack of confidence in the treatment procedure inside as follows;
The account of living condition: A survival game in the field hospital
During that time, within the field hospital of the prison, it was only a large and empty room crowdedly dotted with patients sleeping side by side on a thin bed sheet with a blanket. They slept on the floor, at least 40-50 of them in a row.
“There were barely any facilities here.” – Fah Promsorn
Promsorn describes the poor sanitation and limited facilities in his cell. There are only seven soap bars for 60 inmates causing them to compete for it. Some inmates have to use detergent powder or dis washing solution in lieu of soap for bathing. In fact, the persons infected with Covid-19 should have their individual utensils.
Sam recalls how during his first night in the field hospital, he had to salvage from trash to look for a container to fill drinking water since although there is water filer in the room, there is no water container.
“Could you please bring some food to give to all of us here? Even for one meal is ok. I want them to eat free food, otherwise how could they recover from their illness?” – said Sirichai “New” Nathuang to his lawyer prior to his release.
The living condition asides, they reflect on the nutrition problem which is comparatively dire. The quality of food was woeful. Even though three meals were served per day, but they came at staggering timing. For example, breakfast was served around 08.00 – 09.00 including porridge and some food. Lunch was served around 11.00 – 14.00, mostly with porridge. And dinner was served around 15.00 – 16.00 with food packed in bag. All of them were required to use their own spoons, although after each meal, no dish washing solution was provided for cleaning.
A account on the treatment: In a time when I fell ill and was held in captivity, in a condition not different from animals
“Here, everyone knows of their day of entry, but has no idea of their day out. We have no idea how long we have to stay here. It is like holding animals in captivity simply invoking the Covid-19 pandemic.” – Fah Promsorn
According to accounts about the treatment of persons who have tested positive for Covid-19 behind the prison wall, many inmates similarly share the view that in the prison, there is a special zone for isolation and a SWAB test (rapid testing of sample collected from the nostril) every 14 days. For the person testing positive for Covid-19, the test will be conducted every seven days and they will be transferred to receive treatment at the Medical Correctional Institution. Most of them are those 60 years and over or those with comorbidity to be offered a bed in the building so that they can get access to close medical attention.
For other patients whose symptoms are not severe, they are transferred to receive treatment at the field hospital and all of them will receive five tablets of paracetamol, cough medicine and antihistamine each. Then, they will be left to their own to wait out the symptoms for about 10-14 days before being transferred back to the prison and to remain in the isolation zone.
“The hospital has neither capacity of treatment nor dealing with the disease. Anyone whose conditions get much worse, there is no one to tend to them.” – Fah Promsorn
Promsorn recounted to his lawyer during the visitation about his concern and his lack of confidence in the treatment procedure. In the field hospital, all the inmates who are ill are confined together. Everyday, new patients are also brought in without any segregation. There is no doctor to see them, only professional nurses.
He also recalled how drug dispensation was conducted. If anyone came with a symptom to ask for medicine in the morning, the nurses would make the preparation, but did not give them any treatment, even for patients with comorbidity. They were left to tend to themselves. In this field hospital, the thermometers, blood pressure monitors and odynometers are left there, and the patients have to use the devices by themselves.
Sam also recalled that in other cells, the sick inmates did not receive x-ray examination like themselves. It was like they were held captive there just to complete the 14 days of quarantine. He also said that after a lot of complaints sent to the prison regarding the living condition, soap, and care, this has led to more frequent visits of nurses.
Meanwhile, Parit was the only patient offered a bed inside the building unlike other patients given his comorbidity including asthma which requires close medical attention.
“We cannot rely on nature, but have to rely on fellow patients.” – Parit
Parit recalled that he was put in a cohort ward. Everyone there came down with Covid-19 and had comorbidity. The doctor only came in the morning once a day, and nurses came the morning and the evening. He was surrounded by patients whose conditions were severe. Since his transfer here, a couple of patients around him had died.
He also said that ”Some died at night and no one came to tend to them. They only came to collect the bodies. Even the devices hooked with the patients were let to beep all night long, and no one cared. They always waited until morning to come here.”
Read the accounts of the treatment of political prisoners who tested for Covid-19 in the prison here
And account of the impacts from Covid-19 responses on the public
The state cracked down on political dissenters by invoking Covid-19 restrictions causing the number of cases on rights and freedoms to soar to over a thousand in 2021
Thailand has been living under the Emergency Decree for over two years since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020. Even though the government claims the restrictions have been imposed to contain the spread of the disease, but it was the public who had to bear the brunt more than getting any benefit, particularly the pro-democracy people. All the regulations inflict restriction on various rights and freedoms, and they have been extensively adopted by the authorities without meeting the proportionality requirement.
From TLHR’s documentation, since 18 July 2020 when the Free Youth public assembly took place until 31 December 2021, at least 1,415 individuals have been charged for violating the Emergency Decree related to political assemblies in 603 cases. Many of them are people are affected people who have come out to call out the government for their mismanagement.
The freedom deprived and the risks shouldered by political prisoners behind iron bars
Apart from the impact of the Emergency Decree on the right to freedom of expression in politics, another ramification can be felt on the “right to bail”. Since the Covid-19 pandemic has spread into the prison, attorneys have applied for bail for the individuals remanded in politically motivated cases. Basically, this could help to reduce the crowdedness and the vulnerability to Covid-19 infection in the prison. The court, however, has often dismissed the applications. It was only in June when all political prisoners were allowed to post bail.
Later in August, the political prisoners were put back behind bars again. Throughout the past five months, their attorneys have applied for bail time and again. 15 of them have as a result been allowed to post bail, while the bail applications for prominent members and others have still been dismissed by the court.
On 27 December 2021, the four leaders of the Ratsadon Group who remained incarcerated including Anon, Parit, Panupong and Jatupat announced through their lawyers that they would no longer apply for bail with the Criminal Court. In their view, the denial of bail by the Criminal Court was not made account to the law and justice as well as international treaties which Thailand has ratified. They believe that by denying them the right to bail to effectively prepare their defense, it deprives them of the opportunity to prove their innocence. It is tantamount to a prejudgment that they are wrongful.
“The persons who can save me are the Court. My relatives and lawyers cannot help. Are you aware that the people seated in front of you are dying?” – said Anon Nampha to the Court
Vulnerability to Covid-19 asides, the political prisoners have to face other grim incidences. In the middle of March 2021, in his complaint to the Criminal Court while performing his duties as a lawyer in the case stemming from the protest to demand electoral rights of the ARMY57 case, Anon states that on the night of 15 March 2021, the prison officials made four attempts to bring the seven political prisoners out of their cell in the middle of the night claiming the need to run a Covid-19 test on them. It was highly unusual for an inmate to be brought outside their cell after midnight. They thus feared they could be brought outside just to face any lethal treatment.
In response to the complaint, the Court ordered that it believed the attempts were the execution of the order of the Deputy Director General of the Department of Corrections to conduct Covid-19 testing and to hold Panupong, Jatupat, and Piyarat in custody in another cell. There was no intention to intimidate, harass or harm the life or body of Anon and others.
Nevertheless, the Court stated that even though the acts of the prison officials did not constitute a violation of the law, but they were made with no appropriate regard to the rights of an inmate, and it is a fundamental human right recognized and protected in various countries. The Court thus asked the prison officials to perform their duties with caution to ensure Anon and others afford their protection as recognized by the law.
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