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Thailand: What's next for protest leader 'Penguin' after release?

Despite his release, "Penguin" is still facing 20 lese-majeste charges, more than any other jailed activist. His mother told DW how she campaigned for his release from pre-trial detention.

Parit Penguin Chiwarak shows a three-finger salute from an ambulance as he is released

Parit Chiwarak is one of the key figures in the youth-led protest movement calling PM Prayuth Chan-ocha's resignation

Thai activist Parit Chiwarat —  better known by his nickname "Penguin" — spent three months in jail in pre-trial detention before finally being granted bail on Tuesday. 

Nine petitions calling for his release had been rejected since his arrest in February.

His mother, Sureerat Chiwarak, was growing increasingly desperate in her fight to save her son from languishing in jail and being prosecuted on a raft of charges for defaming the monarchy.

But despite the myriad of legal challenges and court rejections, she refused to give up hope of freeing her son.

"I thought to myself: 'How could I help my son? Do I just stay silent, be afraid and remain behind without fighting alongside him?'" Sureerat told DW.

Parit, who had been jailed since February 9, is one of the key figures in the youth-led protest movement calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and reforms to the constitution and the monarchy.

While public dissatisfaction with the government has not dissipated, the mass protests which rocked Thailand throughout last year fizzled out after the arrest of key leaders and resurgence of COVID-19.

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Protests from outside, within prison

Determined to get her son released until he stands trial, Sureerat shaved her head to protest the court's repeated denials of her son's bail requests.

"It was to show that I'm fighting against the injustice that is happening. I want to help get my son out. He has not received justice," said Sureerat.

Thailand has ratified an international legal agreement that encourages allowing bail for criminal suspects, but Parit and many others have still been held without bail and almost indefinitely. In response, Human Rights Watch called for trials to be held "as expeditiously as possible" for those being denied bail. 

"Losing my hair has so little value compared to losing my son. I'm willing to lose everything in my life to have him back," said Sureerat.

Parit also fought for his rights from prison. The 23-year-old announced on March 15 that he would not take anything but liquids until being granted bail.

He said that he did not intend to take his own life, but hoped "the torment that happens to me is a testimony to the injustice that has occurred."

Parit was on a hunger strike for nearly two months to protest his pre-trial detention. His health deteriorated to the point of having to be transferred to a hospital.

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A long road ahead

Like other pro-democracy activists who have recently been released, Parit has agreed to refrain from participating in activities that denounce the monarchy. He is also barred from leaving the country without permission.

But his release is a small respite. The fight is far from over, as Parit stands accused of 20 lese-majeste charges, more than any other detained activist.

If convicted, he could face up to 300 years in prison, as each conviction under the royal defamation law, known as Article 112, carries between three and 15 years in prison.

At least 88 activists have been charged with lese majeste since its use was revived in November last year, according to Thai watchdog iLaw.