Thai democracy campaigner Wanchalearm Satsaksit was abducted outside his home in Phnom Penh on June 4, 2020. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)
The investigation into the abduction of a Thai political activist who was last seen in Phnom Penh eight months ago has come to a halt because Cambodian authorities are refusing to look into the case, according to the abductee’s sister.
Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a Thai pro-democracy campaigner who lived in exile in the Cambodian capital, was forcefully bundled into a waiting car by men outside his apartment on June 4 last year, never to be seen again.
The last person who was in touch with the missing activist was his sister Sitanan Satsaksit, who was on the phone with him just as he was being abducted by unknown assailants while he was out to buy food near his apartment building.
Sitanan said she heard a commotion and her brother say “I can’t breathe” before the line was cut.
The incident was witnessed by several people in Phnom Penh and recorded on CCTV cameras.
Yet despite this, Cambodian police claim to have no evidence to go on, according to Sitanan, who traveled to Cambodia late last year to try and find out what happened to her brother and provide the authorities with evidence her family has collected about the case.
When she was in Cambodia, “I got the impression that officials in Cambodia did not care about the evidence we presented,” Sitanan told reporters at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents' Club during a briefing on the case.
She explained that local authorities deemed the evidence provided by Sitanan as insufficient and said they “would not investigate the case at all.”
At one point Cambodian authorities even denied that Wanchalearm had been in the country, saying his visa had long expired.
Sitanan said local authorities have failed to provide her with any evidence they have gathered about the case, indicating that they were seeking to drop the matter altogether.
Thai authorities have likewise claimed to profess ignorance of the case, which has been fueling suspicions that Thai state actors were behind the forced disappearance of Wanchalearm, who was known for posting videos critical of the country’s monarchy and military on his social media feeds.
By ignoring all the evidence presented by Sitanan and her family about Wanchalearm’s abduction, Cambodian authorities have been engaged in rights violations, said Badar Farrukh, a human rights officer at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“The anguish and sorrow of the family may reach the threshold of torture,” Farrukh said.
Rights activists have accused the governments of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand of aiding and abetting one another in the forced disappearances of rights activists and political dissidents.
Over the years numerous exiles from these countries have gone missing and investigations into the cases have stalled, according to rights activists.
Wanchalearm’s case could be the latest in the long list of unsolved disappearances, said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Bangkok office.
“As months go by and public interest declines, Cambodian authorities [can feel free] to drag their feet,” Sunai said at the press briefing in Bangkok.
“They will say, ‘We will look into it, but please give us more evidence,’” Sunai added.
The rights activists said that continued media attention on enforced disappearances was key in keeping cases alive.
“We need to rebuild media attention,” he said. “If Wanchalearm can be disappeared, we too can be [disposed of] just like him.”