July 17, 2020 / 4:48 PM / 17 days ago

Thais protest over man hospitalised after wearing critical t-shirt

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A small group of Thai activists protested at a psychiatric hospital on Friday over the admission of a man they believed was being held against his will after wearing a t-shirt that said he had lost faith in the monarchy.

Criticising the Thai monarchy can lead to a 15-year jail sentence, but police in the city of Khon Kaen said they were not pressing charges against Tiwagorn Withiton, 47.

“He is getting treatment, his relatives had him admitted,” Khon Kaen’s police chief, Major General Puttipong Musikul, told Reuters.

Reuters was unable to contact Tiwagorn, and his relatives declined to comment.

Nattakorn Champathong, director of the Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital in the northeastern city, told Reuters that Tiwagorn had not been forced to enter the hospital.

“The patient is willing to get treatment and his relatives also gave consent for his treatment,” he said, adding that he could give no medical details.

Human rights lawyer Yingcheep Atchanont, who visited Tiwagorn on Monday, told Reuters he believed the engineer had been held against his will at the hospital since July 9.

More than a dozen protesters called for his release at the hospital on Friday, a rare sign of public support for someone who has openly criticised the monarchy.

“If he has not harmed anyone, I see no reason why he could not be released,” Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a political activist who attended the protest, told Reuters by phone.

Tiwagorn had posted pictures on his Facebook page last month in which he was wearing a t-shirt bearing the sentence “I have lost faith in the institution of the monarchy”.

In his last Facebook post before being taken to hospital, he said he had been visited by police, other security officials and psychiatrists, who had questioned him about his mental health.

Despite the potentially harsh punishments for critics of the monarchy, it has faced unprecedented questioning on social media in recent months.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Kevin Liffey

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