Southeast Asia's lost dream of open societies

ASEAN's gutless policy over enforced disappearances is unlikely to change under authoritarianism
Southeast Asia's lost dream of open societies

A portrait of missing Thai activist Surachai Danwattananusorn, a prominent critic of Thailand's monarchy and military who went missing in December 2018 with two aides, whose mutilated bodies were later found in the Mekong River. (Photo: AFP)

Luke Hunt
Asia
March 9, 2020
In recent years, the number of people who have simply disappeared in Southeast Asia has increased in tandem with the rise of authoritarians tightening their grip on power from Thailand and Cambodia to Vietnam and the Philippines.

Nearly all those still missing or dead were human rights activists, pro-democracy supporters, journalists, bloggers and opposition politicians who dared to challenge thugs dressed up as politicians.

Among the more prominent was Sombath Samphone, a social activist and agriculturalist who was snatched from the streets in Vientiane, Laos, bundled into a police van and never heard from again.

That was in 2012, when seizing government foes was seen as an internal affair best left to members of the security apparatus responsible for the dirty work of one-party states and military regimes.

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