BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Thai court on Thursday granted bail to student protest leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, who has spent eight weeks in detention on charges of insulting the country’s king, even as six fellow leaders remain in jail.
Bail conditions require Panusaya, 22, to stay in Thailand, attend court sessions when summoned and refrain from offending the monarchy, Krisadang Nutcharat, one of her lawyers, told Reuters.
Panusaya has been on hunger strike during her detention along with another jailed protest leader, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, 22, who was hospitalised last week. Parit’s bail hearing was postponed on Thursday, according to his lawyers.
Earlier on Thursday, authorities confirmed that another activist accused of royal insult, human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, had been infected with the coronavirus in custody.
Panusaya, Arnon and five other protest leaders have been in detention for several weeks on charges of insulting King Maha Vajiralongkorn, a crime in Thailand that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for each violation.
The groundbreaking demonstrations by tens of thousands of mostly students last year made once-unthinkable calls for reforming Thailand’s monarchy, considered by many conservative Thais to be sacrosanct.
The protests also demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief who first came to power in a 2014 military coup.
Some student leaders have accused Prayuth and his military backers of using their alliance with the monarchy to retain political power.
Some also said the king had amassed powers beyond those of a constitutional monarch since he took the throne in 2016 after the death of his father, who reigned for 70 years.
Prayuth’s allies say his party won free and fair elections in 2019 and have said any criticism of the monarchy for political gain is against the law. The palace has repeatedly declined to comment on the protests.
Panusaya is expected to be freed on Thursday evening.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Ed Davies, Martin Petty)