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UN steps up pressure over abducted Thai activist

Cambodian authorities accused of cover-up after claiming there is no evidence he was snatched in Phnom Penh

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Updated: September 19, 2020 05:41 AM GMT
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UN steps up pressure over abducted Thai activist

Wanchalearm Satsaksit has not been seen since he was abducted in Phnom Penh on June 4. (Photo: YouTube)

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The United Nations has renewed its call for Cambodian authorities to investigate the abduction of a Thai political dissident who was seized by a group of men in Phnom Penh.

The UN’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances submitted a second letter this week to the Cambodian government, urging local authorities to speed up their investigation into the abduction of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a pro-democracy activist who had been living in Cambodia after fleeing Thailand in the wake of a military coup in May 2014.

Wanchalearm, 37, was attacked by several armed men outside his apartment in Phnom Penh and manhandled into a car in broad daylight as he was on his way to buy food outside his apartment on June 4, according to several witnesses.

The UN’s call has come just as Cambodian police have announced that their months-long investigation into the case has yielded no significant breakthrough.

Wanchalearm has not been seen since June 4 and is widely presumed to be dead, yet Cambodian authorities have effectively denied that Wanchalearm was even in the country when the abduction took place.

The country’s Ministry of Interior said that based on its document Wanchalearm, who was wanted in his homeland for his activism, entered Cambodia by air on Oct. 15 in 2015. He was allowed to stay in the country on a temporary residency visa until Dec. 31 in 2017, which would indicate he had been staying illegally in Cambodia after that.

Cambodian officials also seemed to question the abduction of the Thai activist despite the testimonies of several eyewitnesses obtained by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.

“Wanchalearm was not found at any of the properties we searched,” the Ministry of Interior said. “We also surveyed security cameras in the area where the alleged abduction took place, but no evidence was found.”

In a letter to the United Nations, Cambodian authorities added that three witnesses had confirmed there were no reports of abduction in the said area.

Several observers are accusing Cambodian authorities of engaging in a cover-up.

“There is little reason to believe that the Cambodian government — currently in the middle of its own crackdown on dissent — had any intention of mounting a thorough investigation into the abduction of Wanchalearm,” a columnist for The Diplomat magazine argues.

“On the contrary, its correspondence with UN human rights officials reveals a government very much going through the motions in its approach to the UN’s requests.”

The UN says Cambodian authorities are beholden by international law to properly investigate the matter, in part to help the relatives of the missing activist achieve a degree of closure.

“We highlight that the anguish and sorrow of the family may reach the threshold of torture,” the UN said in its letter to Cambodian authorities.

“The right to truth is therefore an absolute right which cannot be restricted and there is an absolute obligation to take all the necessary steps to find the person. We further underline that his family should be protected from ill treatment or intimidation if required.”

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