Updated: Enforced disappearance and political repression

5 06 2020

Wanchalearm Satsaksit is reported “disappeared.” He’s not the first political dissident to be abducted. Others have turned up as mutilated bodies floating in the Mekong while others who have been disappeared have never been heard of again.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Prachatai reports that the political exile “in Phnom Penh was allegedly kidnapped from in front of his condominium in the evening of 4 June.”

Armed men in a black vehicle grabbed Wanchalearm off the street in front of his condominium, suggesting that he has been stalked and observed by the abductors.

Most observers would likely consider the criminals at work in this enforced disappearance are working for Thailand’s military and its regime. PPT’s guess would be that they work under orders from Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who has oversight of “national security.”

Whether Gen Prawit is acting on the orders of the vengeful king is likely to remain unknown, but the enforced disappearance does coincide with heightened protests in Germany about the truant king, which have been widely viewed in Thailand. The palace and regime probably see these protests as the result of cooperation between anti-monarchists and political activists.

Khaosod observes that Thailand’s “police deny involvement in … [the] abduction.”

Prachatai reports that “Wanchalearm is a critic of Thai politics and on 3 June published a video clip criticizing Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha speaking in the northeastern Thai dialect.” He is said to have established a satirical Facebook page criticizing the military-backed regime in Bangkok.

He “was among those prosecuted for refusing the junta summons following the 2014 military coup” and “[a]ccording to Isra [N]ews, he is … on the authority’s [regime’s] wanted list of people who violate Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, of Article 112…”. Prachatai adds that “there is no clear evidence of him being accused legally” of lese majeste.

Khaosod reports that Wanchalearm “routinely called for reforms of the Thai monarchy – a taboo subject in Thailand.”

VOA has eye witness statements about the abduction:

VOA Khmer visited an apartment building in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district and spoke to eyewitnesses to the abduction. At least three eyewitnesses were able to identify photographs of Wanchalearm Satsaksit and said he was the person who was abducted on Thursday. All witnesses did not want to be identified in the story for fear of reprisals.

The witnesses said they saw the Thai activist sitting at a store near the apartment building, after ordering a plate of meatballs. Shortly after, a black car that one of the witnesses identified as a Toyota Highlander pulled up near Wanchalearm Satsaksit. Three men dressed in black exited the vehicle with concealed weapons.

One of the unidentified men then punched Wanchalearm in the neck, said two of the witnesses, after which the Thai activist was strangled as he was dragged to the car, all the while screaming for help.

VOA went in search of official responses in Cambodia:

Cambodian police officials on Friday claimed to not know about the abduction. National Police Chief Neth Savoeun did not immediately deny the abduction, asking a VOA reporter to call a spokesperson for further information.

“Ask the spokesperson. I am in a meeting. I don’t have time to respond,” he said, adding that he will instruct National Police spokesperson Chhay Kimkhoeun to respond to queries after the spokesperson initially claimed to be unaware of the abduction.

However, Chhay Kimkhoeun did not provide any information and was instead unhappy that reporters had requested information from his superior.

“Why do you need to call the big boss? I don’t want to cooperate [with you],” he said. “The police do not know [about the abduction]. You can report whatever information you have.”

Khieu Sopheak, spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior, and Kirth Chantharith, the director-general at the Immigration Department, and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Koy Kuong said they did not have information about Thai activist’s abduction and reverted the questions to the National Police.

VOA Khmer could not reach Interior Minister Sar Kheng for comment. The Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to email and telephonic requests for comment on Friday.

In concluding its report, VOA observes:

Thailand and Cambodia have in the past coordinated to deport critics of the respective regimes, even agreeing in 2018 to work closely to deport “foreign fugitives.”

It is possible that police in Thailand and Cambodia have limited involvement in what was probably a military-to-military operation. Presumably police are told to be vague in commenting to the media.

The concern now is that Wanchalearm will never be seen again. This has happened in other cases, especially where political dissidents and anti-monarchists have been “disappeared.”

Update: While the editors at the Bangkok Post are working hard with inverted commas to suggest that Wanchalearm might not have been abducted (they put that word in inverted commas in headlines), one of their reports includes some useful information, adding to what’s available in English about the disappeared activist.

One addition is that a police spokesman, Pol Col Krissana Pattanacharoen, confirms that “Thai police had contacted their Cambodian counterparts earlier about extraditing Mr Wanchalerm and other activists who had fled to the neighbouring country…”. It also adds that: “According to a 2015 Thai media report citing a security source, Mr Wanchalearm was among 29 exiled activists accused of violating the lese majeste law that makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the monarchy.”

Meanwhile, the Post observes that “[a]t least eight [and Wanchalerm makes ‘at least’ nine] Thai activists who fled after the 2014 coup and took refuge in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have disappeared, associates and rights groups say. Some have been found dead.” The linked report states an autopsy confirmed they were murdered.

Sadly, elder sister Sitanan Satasaksit told BBC Thai: “His chance for survival was only 1%…”. PPT doubts that the (state) criminals who order these abductions and murders and those who carried out those orders will ever be brought to justice. Too many “big bosses” are protecting them (and issuing orders).


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20 06 2020
Preempting regime and king | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] we first posted on Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s apparent enforced disappearance, we understood that the rumors […]

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