Asked to describe herself, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, says she’s “humble and quiet”. The student and amateur violinist was once shy, but today she’s a leading voice in Thailand’s youth democracy movement.
Rung became politically active while studying sociology and anthropology at university in the capital, Bangkok. She bravely took part in protests for social and political change throughout 2020. By August, she had become a protest leader.
Watched by thousands, Rung called for equality, freedom of expression and – what is a highly sensitive topic in Thailand – the reform of the monarchy. This unprecedented act propelled her onto the national stage and the authorities branded her a troublemaker.
Rung continued to lead protests for constitutional and social reform. Accused of provoking unrest, she was arrested in March under a lèse-majesté law that outlaws criticism of the monarchy. She was imprisoned for 60 days during which she was diagnosed with Covid-19. The authorities denied her bail six times. In defiance, she went on a 38-day hunger strike and was released on 30 April 2021.
Rung faces dozens of charges against her and, if found guilty, life imprisonment. “Once you step into the prison; you will no longer feel that your humanity is still intact,” she says.
Tell Thailand to drop all charges against Rung.