Holding placards, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok on June 15 to call for an investigation into the abduction of a Thai political refugee in Phnom Penh. The small rally followed several similar flash mobs outside a shopping mall in central Bangkok with university students and rights activists condemning Thai authorities over the disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, on June 4. Wanchalearm was abducted by several armed men dressed in black outside the Phnom Penh condominium where he had been living. He is believed to have been killed, possibly over his political activism from his self-imposed exile in Cambodia where he fled after the Thai military deposed an elected government in a coup in 2014. Thai authorities have denied any knowledge of the abduction and their Cambodian counterparts have likewise sought to play down the incident.
The Thai government said earlier this week that Wanchalearm had been staying illegally in Cambodia after having overstayed his visa. “It only shows that people in power in these countries can get away with murder,” a young demonstrator told UCA News on condition of anonymity. “I think there is very little chance that he [Wanchalearm] is still alive.” Last week the United Nations called on Cambodian authorities to find Wanchalerm, who has not been seen since his abduction. The UN’s Committee on Enforced Disappearances gave Cambodian authorities two weeks to find out what has happened to him. “Mr. Wanchalearm’s disappearance occurred in the context of ongoing persecution of Thai dissidents who fled to neighboring countries following the coup on May 22, 2014,” the UN agency wrote in its petition to Cambodian authorities. “The committee was also informed that the perpetrators of Mr. Wanchalearm’s disappearance appeared to have been professionally trained, which would imply that they may be linked to state agents, and that no ransom was requested.” An outspoken critic of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who spearheaded the coup in 2014, the activist was at an eatery in Phnom Peng on the evening of June 4 when he was approached by three men dressed in black. According to witnesses, one of the men struck Wanchalearm in the neck before he was dragged to a waiting car with tinted windows as he was screaming for help. During the incident, he was on the phone to his sister, who heard him say “Argh, I can’t breathe” before the call was disconnected. Several prominent Thai pro-democracy activists who went into hiding in neighboring countries have disappeared over the last year and are feared dead. The bodies of three Thai military regime critics were found in the Mekong River in December and January after going missing from their last known hideout in Laos. The corpses had been disemboweled and stuffed with concrete. The Thai government has denied it was behind the men’s gruesome deaths. Rights groups say Thai authorities make little effort to find missing political activists. The country’s primary investigative police agency, the Department of Special Investigations, “has made little progress in investigating enforced disappearance cases,” Human Rights Watch wrote in its World Report 2019.
Support UCA News...
As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.
That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.
Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.
UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.
We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.
Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...