By The Nation
Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, was abducted by unknown persons from outside an apartment building in Phnom Penh, David Griffiths, director in the Office of the Secretary-General at Amnesty International. Wanchalearm fled Thailand in 2014 after the military seized power, and has been a vociferous critic of the Prayut administration ever since, broadcasting his views on Facebook. Thai police have reportedly denied having any role in his disappearance.
“The Cambodian authorities must urgently investigate Wanchalearm’s alleged abduction in order to establish his whereabouts. The Thai authorities must also confirm whether Wanchalearm was arrested at their request,” said Griffiths.
“If he is located, he must not be returned to Thailand where he likely faces persecution.”
US-based watchdog Humans Rights Watch also demanded that Phnom Penh urgently investigate the incident.
Griffiths pointed out that this would not be the first time that Thai citizens have vanished after expressing their political opinions.
A relative reported the abduction on June 4, after speaking to him on the phone at 17.54 as Wanchalearm left his flat to purchase food. “I can’t breathe” were the activist’s final words before the conversation abruptly ended. Security camera footage from the apartment reportedly showed a Honda Highlander sedan departing at the time Wanchalearm disappeared.
Thai authorities filed charges against him, most recently in 2018 under the Computer Crimes Act, alleging that he had posted anti-government material on Facebook. They reportedly requested his extradition from Cambodian authorities at the time. They also filed charges against him for failing to report to summons issued in 2014 to a wide range of activists and political figures after the military coup in May of that year. Prior to exile he was a youth and HIV activist and also managed an HIV outreach programme at the Rainbow Sky Alliance of Thailand.
Amnesty notes that at least eight Thai activists and members of the political opposition have disappeared or been killed in Laos and Vietnam in recent years. The rights group said it is concerned that regional governments have failed to properly investigate this pattern of abductions by unknown perpetrators of Thai nationals whose extradition had been sought by Thai authorities.
This includes Thai national Ittipol Sukpaen, who disappeared in June 2016; Wutthipong “Ko Tee” Kottham-makhun, who Amnesty said disappeared after being abducted by Thai-speaking masked men in July 2017 (whose abduction the Lao authorities confirmed they had not investigated); Surachai Danwattananusorn, who disappeared after being abducted in Vientiane in December 2018 together with Chatcharn Buppawan and Kraidej Lulert, whose corpses were found in the Mekong river in Thailand in December 2018.