Updated: Wanchalerm “missing” for 12 months

4 06 2021

Thai PBS reported on one year “anniversary” of the apparent forced disappearance of regime critic Wanchalearm Satsaksit who was kidnapped in broad daylight on a Phnom Penh street on 4 June 2020.

It is widely assumed that it was some kind of military or paramilitary unit sent to do the work of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime, with many feeling that the orders probably came from the palace. Many believe he is dead.

Wanchalerm

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

He has not located and neither the Thai nor Cambodian governments have said much at all and have sat on their hands. This suggests state complicity and collusion between states.

According to the report, despite Wanchalerm having been “kidnapped by a group of armed men outside his apartment building in Phnom Penh” and that the “incident was witnessed by passers-by and recorded on CCTV cameras,” the  “Cambodian authorities refused to treat it as a case of abduction.”

Of course, he is not the only Thai political activist to have been disappeared since the 2014 military coup.

He is among nine critics of the Thai government and military thought to have fallen victim to enforced disappearance over the past few years. His case has become a focus of anti-establishment protests seeking to oust the Thai government and change the junta-sponsored Constitution.

Not mentioned is the fact that most of these disappeared activists, a couple of whom turned up murdered and floating in the Mekong River, is that most of them were critics of the monarchy.

The Thai regime has “made no progress in the investigation of Wanchalearm’s disappearance since his family submitted their information to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) a year ago…”.

Wanchalerm’s sister Sitanan “is dismayed by how Cambodian authorities have dealt with the case”:

The Cambodian police did not conduct a proper investigation…. I felt that officials in Cambodia did not care about the evidence we presented. They said if we could not provide stronger evidence, they would not investigate the case at all.

Sitanan also “says Thai authorities have shown an equal lack of enthusiasm, declining to give her any information or to conduct a formal inquiry into her brother’s disappearance.”

For many observers, there is a pattern of official lack of interest and inaction that usually accompanies official complicity. Indeed, Sitanan now “suspects Thai authorities were involved in what she describes as her brother’s ‘forced disappearance’ in Cambodia.”

Prachatai reports on further efforts to have the Thai regime to do something about Wanchalerm’s case and the similar “disappearance” of  Siam Theerawut, who disappeared after fleeing to Vietnam.

Update: Prachatai has a series of related stories, here, here, and here.





Enforced disappearance and regime lies

8 02 2021

Readers may have noticed a report at Thai Enquirer where a regime official liar spokesperson from the hopelessly compromised Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

categorically denied the allegations and said that the country “prioritized the safety and well-being of all its nationals…. The allegations that Thailand has a campaign that forcibly [neutralizes] dissents are baseless, including allegations of the involvement of the government in enforced disappearances….

If it wasn’t so serious, this would be laughable. This lie comes in response to a recently released report from Freedom House. Here’s what Freedom House reported:

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

The Thai government is allegedly behind multiple assassinations and unexplained disappearances in Laos, renditions from Cambodia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, as well as an assault in Japan. The campaign appears to be a dissent-quelling strategy of the military-dominated government that first came to power in a 2014 coup,296 with the first documented case in 2016. It targets a narrow profile of individuals: all 11 people in cases documented by Freedom House were viewed by the government as engaging in anti-state actions in some form, including violating Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté law. All participated in some form of political activism and all but one engaged in blogging or journalism, with YouTube, radio, and social media platforms being the most common mediums.

Freedom House documented fewer cases of transnational repression by Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, but campaigns by all three took place in Thailand. Thailand detained and rendered two Cambodian exiles in 2018 at the apparent request of the Cambodian government, and Laos is reportedly responsible for a rendition and an unexplained disappearance in Thailand. A prominent Vietnamese blogger and government critic was rendered from Bangkok in 2019. Separately, four Vietnamese activists in Cambodia suffered an acid attack in 2017, believed to have been ordered by Vietnamese authorities. Vietnam has also operated farther afield. Trinh Xuân Thanh, a Vietnamese businessman, asylum seeker, and
former Communist Party official, was kidnapped from Berlin’s Tiergarten park in 2017 along with a companion. The pair were rendered to Vietnam, where Thanh was sentenced to two life terms in prison. Vietnamese authorities apparently dispatched a seven-person intelligence team to carry out the operation.

Tanee Sangrat, a spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declared: “It is not a crime to criticize the government and any insinuation that the government pursues enforced disappearances because of the victims’ anti-state activism is unfounded.”

Either Tanee is an unskilled liar or as thick as a brick. The number of arrests of the past 7-8 months have been enormous. We know that dullard puppets like Tanee will say that no one was arrested for criticizing the regime but for other “crimes.” But this fools no one. This is a corrupt and authoritarian regime, and, apparently also populated by dopes.





Music video recalls the disappeared

7 02 2021

Prachatai is where we saw this video, posted to YouTube on 3 February. คนที่คุณก็รู้ว่าใคร (You know who) by วงสามัญชน is a re-arranged version of an earlier song from 2020 “by the Commoner Band, a music band promoting democracy, human rights and state welfare through music.”

The video includes “photos and footage of the victims of enforced disappearances from 2016 until the very present in 2020. All of them either fled Thailand after the 2014 coup or from criminal charges that followed their criticisms of the government and the monarchy,” including photos of the body bags like those when the bodies of Kraidej Luelert, or Kasalong, and Chatchan Bupphawan, or Phuchana, self-exiled political activists who were kidnapped, brutally murdered and thrown in the Mekong River.

It also includes photos of the real body bags, the disappeared, their families, and remembrances and demonstrations.

Making it clear who “You Know Who” is, the video also shows “Sarinthip Siriwan, a famous actress who mysteriously disappeared in 1987.” It has long been rumored that the then crown prince had her disappeared.

 





Army impunity

24 01 2021

The impunity enjoyed by officials has a long history in Thailand but it is undeniable that it has expanded and deepened since the the 2006 military coup. Under the current regime there is essentially zero accountability for officials. Sure, there are occasional “crackdowns” and the odd prosecution, but the rule that officials can get away with stuff – even murder – holds.

In a Bangkok Post editorial, questions are raised about the Royal Thai Army, which celebrated “its strength and solidarity” on Armed Forces Day.

The editorial asks the public to “keep in mind that military officials still owe a few explanations on its pledge to reform, following several cases, including the Korat mass shooting last year that left a huge stain on its image.”

Clipped from Khaosod

It points out that on 8-9 February 2020, a disgruntled soldier “shot and killed 29 innocent people and wounded 57 others in Nakhon Ratchasima…”. The killer’s problem was “a property dispute” with “the soldier’s senior officer and his mother-in-law…”. In other words, “the army’s side dealings [were]… the root cause.” It adds that “analysts” say that “some army officers enter into private business dealings — and it’s an open secret.”

A few days later, “then army chief Apirat Kongsompong promised to investigate the problem…”. In fact, he did nothing to change the underlying situation. Indeed, this corruption continues. The Post mentions an alleged “illegal allocation of over 70,000 rai of forest land in Nakhon Ratchasima for a real estate project involving senior army officers.”

Yes, the very same province as the mass shooting. The Post adds that there “have been no reports of an investigation, let alone progress and punishment of culprits.”

The Post then recalls the unexplained death of a military conscript – there’s been more than one case – and asks: “How can the RTA restore public trust when it is entrenched in scandals? Why should the public trust a force of armed men who can barely be transparent in their affairs?”

How many times have we heard such pleading. In fact, it is as many times as reform has been rejected by the military as the Army maintains it impunity and its control.

We should note that the Post editorial mistakenly states that the Korat shooting “is considered the deadliest mass shooting in the kingdom’s history.” This mistake reflects some big omissions.

The biggest is the murder of almost a hundred red shirts and bystanders in April and May 2010. Who has been held accountable? No one from the Army.

Who killed protesters in 1992? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters at Thammasat University on 6 October 1976? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters on 14 October 1973? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered people at Kru Se in 2004 and Tak Bai the same year? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

What about the enforced disappearances of activists and unexplained murder of civilians like Chaiyapoom Pasae? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

The list could go on and on and on.





HRW on Thailand’s human rights decline

16 01 2021

When you are near the bottom, going deeper requires particular skills in dark arts.

Human Rights Watch has recently released its World Report 2021. The summary on Thailand makes for depressing reading, even after more than six years of military junta and now a barely distinguishable post-junta regime.

The full report on Thailand begins:

Thailand faced a serious human rights crisis in 2020. Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s government imposed restrictions on civil and political rights, particularly freedom of expression, arbitrarily arrested democracy activists, engineered the dissolution of a major opposition political party on politically motivated grounds, and enforced a nationwide state of emergency, using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext.

And the rest of the report is pretty much a litany of repression. There’s discussion of the State of Emergency, restrictions on freedom of expression, torture, enforced disappearance, impunity on state-sponsored rights violations, the persecution of human rights defenders, a continuation of human rights violations in the south, mistreatment of migrants and refugees, and more. Surprisingly, there’s only a paragraph on lese majeste, which is now the regime’s main weapon in silencing dissent.

Readers of PPT will know all of the sordid details of the regime’s efforts to stifle criticism, but read the report to be reminded of how dark things have remained despite the rigged election and the existence of a parliament. The latter has, in 2020, been pretty much supine as the regime has used its ill-gotten majority and its unelected Senate to stifle the parliaments scrutiny of the regime.





Sirichai’s two lese majeste charges

15 01 2021

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

The Bangkok Post has a detailed account of Sirichai “New” Natueng’s arrest and the now two lese majeste charges against him.

PPT posted yesterday on the then breaking news and the first case against him. In that case, he faces both a lese majeste charge and another of vandalizing property under Article 358 of the Criminal Code. In this case he “allegedly spray-painted text about taxes and the abolition of Section 112, ironically one of the offences he was accused of committing, over an image of royals and the nameplate of the university’s Rangsit campus in six spots in the area in total. The incident took place on Jan 10.”

The report also provides more details on the police action against him. It states that he was first taken into custody by Khlong Luang police at 9pm on 13 January. Sirichai said “he had asked to exercise his right to a lawyer but police denied his request.” Thailand’s police seem unconstrained by law or constitution.

Two hours later he was able to talk to his lawyer but that call “was cut short by police who seized his phone.” He was then transported to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 base, “but after 10 minutes police took him back to his dormitory for a search.” Sirichai states that no warrant was presented until after the search.

The Post reports that Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) posted seven observations. We reproduce some of this:

First, the court approved his arrest warrant for the lese majeste charge even though the persons in question are not protected by the law….

Second, the court approved a nighttime search warrant, specifically from 9pm onward. The Criminal Procedures Code allows a search to be done only from sunrise to sunset with a few exceptions — when it is a continuation of a search that has begun during the daytime, when it is a severe emergency, or when arresting a serious crime suspect, which requires special permission first.

Third, police only allowed him to talk to lawyers only briefly and he could not be later contacted.

Fourth, the police refused to reveal where they detained him. Instead, they lied to his friends who showed up in his support and moved him to various places. They explained later the disclosure of the place might obstruct the search…. It is illegal detention and a short-term forced disappearance — a critical violation of rights….

Fifth, police [sh]ould not take him to Border Patrol Police headquarters. By law, a suspect must be detained at the office of interrogators.

Sixth, police began the search without showing a warrant. They showed them only after the search was done. They did not make records at the place of search. Instead, they made them hours after the evidence was brought back to the police station, making it impossible to verify whether the items were really from the suspect’s room.

Seventh, it marked the first lese majeste case that a court approved an arrest warrant for since Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha issued a statement on Nov 19 he would enforce all laws to deal with demonstrators. Up until now, the court denied police requests for arrest warrants. Other suspects were simply summonsed to acknowledge charges and then freed.

Later at 12pm on Thursday, Pratunam Chulalongkorn police of Pathum Thani Province “arrived at the Thanyaburi Court and informed Mr Sirichai of another lese majeste charge for the same incident, which also covered their jurisdiction…. They did not seek to detain him and it now depends on prosecutors whether to charge him in court.”





Year-end articles I

30 12 2020

2020 has been quite a year. Already, several publications have produced year-end articles that attempt commentary on a remarkable year. Here are some that we found:

VICE, “2020: Thai Protesters Look Back on a Year That Changed Their Lives.” As the article says: “We asked those behind the unprecedented demonstrations what was achieved, and what’s next.” Well worth reading and considering.

The Los Angeles Times has a very good article on the disappearance of Wanchalerm Satsaksit and subsequent events. “A Thai dissident was kidnapped. When police had no answers, his sister began to investigate” is also about the determined quest by Sitanan Satsaksit to ensure her brother’s enforced disappearance is not forgotten.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

East Asia Forum has an editorial – “Thailand needs normal politics” – and two year-end articles. One is by James Ockey, “Government no match for Thai demonstrators online” and another by Kevin Hewison, “Thai youth protests undercut political establishment.





Justice for Thailand’s disappeared

20 11 2020

Al Jazeera’s 101 East has a program available on Thailand’s victims of enforced disappearance. Given the significance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s abduction in Cambodia for the genesis of the current protests, it is well worth viewing.





Updated: Still missing

5 10 2020

It is now four months since the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit. He was snatched off the street in Phnom Penh in what was probably a black ops by the Thai military.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

Prachatai reports that Piyanut Kotsan, director of Amnesty International Thailand says “there has been no progress in Cambodian authorities’ investigation of his abduction.” Nothing.

Both the Thai and Cambodian governments refuse to do or say anything, suggesting the two governments collaborated in ignoring international law and “disappearing” Wanchaleam.

AI states:

We urge Cambodia to set up an investigation team to carry out a prompt, effective, thorough and transparent investigation and to ensure justice is served for the victim and his family. Four months on, there is still no progress in the investigation.

Further, we urge Thai authorities to provide all necessary assistance to facilitate Ms. Sitanan Satsaksit, Mr. Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s older sister’s travel to Cambodia to give evidence to public prosecutors there.

The Nation has a story reporting on Wanchalearm’s former girlfriend. She spent time with him in exile in Cambodia.

Update: Khaosod interviews Wanchalearm’s sister, Sitanun. Sadly but predictably, “she’s given up any hope on government actions,” and has “decided not to rely on either Thai or Cambodian government because both of them have not given her any satisfactory answer” on her brother’s abduction. Sitanun explained a Cambodian cover-up: “Cambodian authorities told her in August that Saksit was not found in the accommodation list of the apartment.” For them, he did not exist: “They said there was no Wanchalearm there on that day. That the license plate of the van which abducted him wasn’t real…. They are now trying to clean up any traces.”

Tellingly, she adds, the “person ordering it is not ordinary…”. Like everyone else, Sitanun “believes the Thai authorities were behind the abduction…”.





Wanchalearm and the loyalist royalists

17 09 2020

We wonder if there isn’t a connection between the palace appointments of army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong and Corrections Department director-general Naras Savestanan and the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

Prachatai reports that the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has:

submitted a second letter to the Cambodian government over lack of progress in the investigation since the Thai activist was kidnapped from the front of his residence in Phnom Penh on 4 June 2020.

Where is Wanchalearm? Clipped from Prachatai

Both the Thai and Cambodian governments have been silent on the abduction. To us, that indicates both regimes are complicit.

The UN Working Group states: “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 [missing] person…”. Sadly, the Group felt the need to add: “We further underline that his family should be protected from ill treatment or intimidation if required…”.

What does this have to do with the rewards to loyalist royalists? We can’t help thinking that Gen Apirat is being rewarded for taking a leading role in the abduction, disappearance, torture, and murder of several activists in third countries. Each of the operations has a strong whiff of special operations by the Thai military. Gen Apirat is likely being rewarded for illegal and murderous operations. We’d also guess that he’s also being rewarded for all the efforts he’s made to remove symbols of the 1932 revolution.

Clipped from Khaosod

And what of Corrections Department director-general Naras? Again, we’d guess that he’s rewarded for royal deeds associated with prisons, including the operations at the king’s Dhaveevatthana Palace prison and probably the imprisonment as punishment of Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi.

We can but wonder.