Cambodian authorities are being urged to investigate the abduction of a prominent Thai pro-democracy activist living in exile in Phnom Penh after he criticized Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in a Facebook post. Wanchalearm Satsaksit was taken from outside his home on June 4 evening while shopping for food and talking to a colleague on the phone. His last words were “Argh, I can’t breathe” before being whisked away in a black car. “The abduction of a prominent Thai political activist on the streets of Phnom Penh demands an immediate response from Cambodian authorities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW). He said neither Cambodian nor Thai government authorities have responded to media inquiries about Wanchalearm’s abduction. Both countries are authoritarian states and have been criticized in the West for staging sham elections. “Foreign governments and donors should press the Cambodian government to take all necessary measures to find Wanchalearm or risk being complicit in his abduction,” Adams said.
Wanchalearm is a prominent pro-democracy activist affiliated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the Red Shirts. He fled to Cambodia after the May 2014 military coup in Thailand and remained politically active in exile, frequently critical of the Thai government on social media. That included a video clip criticizing Prayut posted on Facebook on June 3. Senior Thai police have pursued Wanchalearm since a warrant was issued for his arrest about two years ago. The warrant was based on allegations that he violated the Computer Crime Act by operating a Facebook page critical of the Thai government. “The Cambodian government should urgently act to locate Wanchalearm and ensure his safety,” Adams said, adding there were witnesses to the abduction, which was also captured on security cameras mounted in his apartment block. Abductions and enforced disappearances of people living in exile have emerged as the new normal among the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Thai authorities have demanded governments in neighboring countries hand over pro-democracy exiles and have aggressively pursued the apprehension of pro-democracy activists who took refuge in neighboring countries after the May 2014 coup. “Over the past six years, Cambodia and Thailand have closely collaborated to harass, arbitrarily arrest and forcibly return exiled dissidents in violation of international law,” Adams said. “This collaboration has included people formally registered as persons of concern by the United Nations refugee agency. Wanchalearm previously told HRW he had occasionally been put under surveillance by Thai officials in Cambodia.” HRW says at least eight exiles have become victims of enforced disappearances.
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