Giles Ji Ungpakorn
A recent incident where a pro-democracy activist was forcibly taken away to a mental hospital by police after giving a speech at Thammasart University, raises issues about a lack of rights for citizens accused of mental illness and also the use of mental illness as a means to punish political activists.
Sasinut (“Pen”) Shinthanawanitch gave a speech on the “People Who Want an Election” stage at Thammasart University on Saturday 5th May and talked about Thai monarchs, demanding that the present king stand with the people in promoting democracy. The organisers tried to shut her up and after leaving the stage she was taken away by plain-clothed policemen, who took her to the local police station. She was then forcibly taken to Somdet Chaopraya mental hospital.
Later in the day, some activists and two human rights lawyers tried to telephone her and later they tried to visit her at the hospital. When they arrived at the hospital they found that her hands and feet had been tied to a wheel chair and the doctors refused to let them speak to her. She reports that she was forcibly medicated and made to undergo a blood test. She was also stripped naked along with other patients and given a shower. She was detained in the hospital until Tuesday afternoon.
Pen might hold, what I perceive to be, slightly eccentric views, but during a recent video interview with the exiled journalist Jom Petchpradab on Thai Voice TV, she did not exhibit any psychiatric problems.
Her plight only came to light because of the efforts of an exiled Thai political activist in Cambodia, a group of lawyers for Human Rights and the actions of a Prachatai reporter.
The 2008 Mental Health law in Thailand allows the police to detain people after any complaints and it also allows mental hospitals to detain citizens and forcibly treat them without proper checks and balances.
This is not the first time that a pro-democracy activist has been accused of having mental health issues in Thailand. It is similar to the way that political dissidents are treated in Russia, China and other authoritarian countries.
The lèse-majesté law also means that people are fearful when someone starts talking about the monarchy from a public stage, even when it is something as mundane as demanding that the king stand with the people for democracy.
The treatment and human rights of people with mental health problems and those accused of having mental health problems is something which has for too long been ignored in Thailand. This is similar to the lack of human rights and civilised treatment of prisoners in Thai jails.