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Protesters keep up pressure in search for Thai activist

Calls grow for Thai, Cambodian probes into the abduction and suspected murder of Wanchalearm Satsaksit

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Updated: June 16, 2020 07:24 AM GMT
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Protesters keep up pressure in search for Thai activist

A protester points at pictures of Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok. (Photo: AFP)

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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.

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