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Rights group fears Thai activists have been 'disappeared'

Vietnam reported to have handed over three dissidents who fled Laos after other activists were abducted and found dead

ucanews.com reporter, Bangkok

ucanews.com reporter, Bangkok

Published: May 10, 2019 05:46 AM GMT

Updated: May 10, 2019 05:49 AM GMT

Rights group fears Thai activists have been 'disappeared'

A visitor looks at a portrait of missing Thai activist Surachai Danwattananusorn during a human rights forum at the Netherlands embassy in Bangkok on March 12. Surachai, a prominent critic of Thailand's monarchy and the junta, went missing in December 2018 with two aides. Surachai's whereabouts are still unknown, while the battered bodies of his two aides were washed ashore in the Mekong River on the Thai-Laos border. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Thai government to reveal the whereabouts of three activists who were reportedly extradited from Vietnam to Bangkok.

Thai authorities have not acknowledged their arrest and detention, raising grave concerns that they have become victims of enforced disappearance, the New York-based rights group said on May 9.

Vietnamese authorities reportedly arrested Chucheep Chivasut, Siam Theerawut and Kritsana Thapthai early this year for illegal entry and using fake travel documents.

Vietnam handed them over to Thai authorities on May 8, according to media reports. Thai authorities have accused the three men of breaking Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws by insulting the monarchy, including by broadcasting online anti-monarchy radio programs and mobilizing supporters of Chucheep’s Organization for Thai Federation to hold demonstrations against the monarchy by wearing black T-shirts in Bangkok and other provinces.

HRW Asia director Brad Adams has called on the Thai government to immediately disclose the whereabouts of the activists and to permit their family members and lawyers to see them.

“Only by publicly affirming that these three activists are in detention and in contact with their relatives and legal counsel will the authorities put to rest the fear that these men have been forcibly disappeared,” he said.

Since the May 2014 coup, Thai authorities have aggressively pursued Chucheep and other anti-monarchy activists who have operated from neighboring countries. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan announced in September 2018 that the Organization for Thai Federation is an outlawed group and threatened to arrest everyone involved with it.

Chucheep and his two colleagues moved from Laos to Vietnam after activists Surachai Danwattananusorn, Kraidej Luelert and Chatchan Buphawan were abducted by unknown people in Laos in December.

The battered and disemboweled bodies of Kraidej and Chatchan were later found in the Mekong River. Unconfirmed reports said a third body was found at the same time but then lost again. Surachai’s fate is unknown.

Anti-monarchist activists Itthipol Sukpaen and Wuthipong Kachathamakul were abducted in Laos in June 2016 and July 2017 respectively.

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Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified.

“Vietnam’s alleged secret forced return to Thailand of three prominent activists should set off alarm bells in the international community,” Adams said. “United Nations agencies and concerned governments should press the Thai government to immediately reveal where Chucheep and his two colleagues are being held and allow others to visit them.”

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