Wanchalerm’s enforced disappearance

3 07 2020

Wanchalearm

Keeping the spotlight on the unexplained “disappearance” of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, the BBC has a long feature article detailing the events and background to the likely state abduction of the political activist, then living in exile in Cambodia.

As the report observes, he is “the ninth exiled critic of Thailand’s military and monarchy to become a victim of enforced disappearance in recent years.”

We feel it is worth reading in full. There’s not a lot that is new for those who have been following the case, but it is useful to have it brought together.

The report emphasizes that those who abducted Wanchalearm were armed and threatening to those who tried to intervene. The abductors used a black SUV, often a sign of state involvement.

His satirical political commentary “made fun continuously of the military junta. He made fun of Gen Prayuth [Chan-ocha] … he made fun of other generals.”According to human rights observer Sunai Phasuk, Wanchalearm’s social media interventions were to “show that a commoner can make fun of those in power. That seemed to be the way of getting even with the oppressors.”

It seems the oppressors came to hate him and to fear his wit and popularity in Thailand, especially in the northeast. They had been after him since the 2014 military coup and issued an “arrest warrant for Wanchalearm based on allegations he violated the Computer-Related Crime Act” in June 2018, with the authorities vowing to bring him back to Thailand. Now he’s gone.

Jakrapob

Jakrapob Penkair, also a political exile, says the junta/post-junta message is clear:

Let’s kill these folks. These are outsiders, these are people who are different from us and they should be killed in order to bring Thailand back to normalcy….

The reaction in Thailand to Wanchalearm’s disappearance has varied by political position, with regime supporters, royalists and yellow shirts cheering.

However, it has also “sparked protests in Bangkok, with demonstrators accusing the Thai government of involvement, while demanding the Cambodian government investigate the case fully.”

The enforced disappearance also caused the “hashtag ‘#abolish112’ was also written or retweeted more than 450,000 times.” The undertone is that the king is involved in these disappearances:

Many activists believe this abduction is linked to the palace, but the strict laws against any negative comment on the monarchy make this a dangerous link to explore or investigate.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, described as “a prominent activist who served seven years in jail on charges of lese majeste” explains that:

The objective of kidnapping is to kill him and to create the atmosphere of fear in Thailand and other countries where [Thai] people are active in criticising the monarchy….

Somyot is reported to be “in little doubt as to who was behind the disappearance”:

The government knows very well about this kidnap and disappearance. I can insist that the government are the ones behind this violation….

The regime says it knows nothing. No one believes it.





Thanet’s long trial

30 06 2020

A few days ago, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported on the long-running set of cases against Thanet Anantawong. A couple of news outlets picked up the story, including The Thaiger.

A photo from The Straits Times of a damaged statue at Rajabhakti Park

Thanet’s case goes back to 2015 and protests against the Army’s huge posterior polish of the monarchy when it opened its tacky Rajabhakti Park of giant bronzes of selected kings. The Army was accused of corruption and students and activists demonstrated. Thanet supported them.

This sent Army thugs in search of reasons to jail Thanet, a red shirt. A military court soon issued a warrant for the arrest of the working class 25 year-old on charges of lese majeste, inciting disorder and computer crimes, accused of having shared an infographic detailing the corruption, criticized Privy Council President Gen Prem Tinsulanonda and commented on the death in custody of then then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s soothsayer,  Suriyan Sujaritpalawong in five Facebook posts.

The lese majeste charge was quietly dropped soon after he was arrested but the other charges remained, alleging that Thanet’s posts “caused people to dislike the government, leading to protests to topple it.”

When arrested, Thanet was dragged from a hospital bed, and eventually spent 3 years and 10 months in jail awaiting some of the charges to be heard.

TLHR report that Thanet has now “been acquitted of national security and computer crime charges…”. Showing the good sense that is so often missing from the royalist judiciary, the court ruled “that while Thanet may have had different views from those in power at the time, he acted constitutionally:

The court believes his expression of opinions was not intended to stir up sedition or disobedience among people to the extent it could cause unrest in the kingdom or law violations. It was legitimate free speech. Since the witnesses and evidence of the plaintiff do not carry sufficient weight to warrant a guilty verdict, we’ve dismissed the charges.

The notion of “legitimate free speech” is something the courts should be held to in future.





Remembering 1932 in 2020

24 06 2020

24 June 1932 is an important day in Thailand. The palace, royalists and military have persistently worked to erase it from the national historical memory.

Back in 2009 on 24 June, PPT marked the 1932 Revolution by reprinting the first announcement of the khana ratsadon or People’s Party. The announcement is attributed to Pridi Banomyong. We do so again today.

On that day in 1932, the People’s Party (khana ratsadon) executed a well-planned Revolution to end the absolute power of the monarchy.

24 June is an important day for those who have long struggled to establish parliamentary democracy in the country only to see their efforts repeatedly crushed by military and monarchy.

Lopburi vandalism 1

Clipped from Khaosod

For anti-democrats and royalists, 24 June is a day they want to expunge. It recalls a thirst for democracy and is the essence of anti-monarchism in Thailand. The king has been working with the junta-cum-post-junta-regime (of crooks and generals) to destroy memorials and monuments to 1932. History books have been changed. Properties previously removed from the monarchy have reverted to the present monarch.

democracy in ruins

24 June used to be celebrated. Now, the event is barely officially noticed, except for the purposes of repression and preventing people from acknowledging the day and its events.

If royalists remember 24 June for anything it is to diminish the significance of the events of 1932 and declare that King Prajadiphok was the real democrat. Of course, he wasn’t, and he supported several efforts to overthrow the new regime before abdicating.

The 2017 constitution and the changes demanded by King Vajiralongkorn represent a further rolling back of the People’s Party notion of people’s sovereignty.

As we do each year, we invite readers to consider the People’s Party Announcement No. 1, which would probably be considered lese majeste if uttered or published today.

Overthrowing a royalist regime is as important in 2020 as it was in 1932.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE PEOPLE’S PARTY NO. 1 (1932)

Pridi

All the people

When this king succeeded his elder brother, people at first hoped that he would govern protectively. But matters have not turned out as they hoped. The king maintains his power above the law as before. He appoints court relatives and toadies without merit or knowledge to important positions, without listening to the voice of the people. He allows officials to use the power of their office dishonestly, taking bribes in government construction and purchasing, and seeking profits from changes in the price of money, which squanders the wealth of the country. He elevates those of royal blood (phuak chao) to have special rights more than the people. He governs without principle. The country’s affairs are left to the mercy of fate, as can be seen from the depression of the economy and the hardships of making a living – something the people know all about already.

The government of the king above the law is unable to find solutions and bring about recovery. This inability is because the government of the king has not governed the country for the people, as other governments have done. The government of the king has treated the people as slaves (some called phrai, some kha) and as animals. It has not considered them as human beings. Therefore, instead of helping the people, rather it farms on the backs of the people. It can be seen that from the taxes that are squeezed from the people, the king carries off many millions for personal use each year. As for the people, they have to sweat blood in order to find just a little money. At the time for paying government tax or personal tax, if they have no money, the government seizes their property or puts them on public works. But those of royal blood are still sleeping and eating happily. There is no country in the world that gives its royalty so much money as this, except the Tsar and the German Kaiser, in nations that have now overthrown their thrones.

The king’s government has governed in ways that are deceiving and not straightforward with the people. For example, it said it would improve livelihood in this way and that, but time has passed, people have waited, and nothing has happened. It has never done anything seriously. Further than that, it has insulted the people – those with the grace to pay taxes for royalty to use – that the people don’t know as much as those of royal blood. But this is not because the people are stupid, but because they lack the education which is reserved for royalty. They have not allowed the people to study fully, because they fear that if the people have education, they will know the evil that they do and may not let them farm on their backs.

You, all of the people, should know that our country belongs to the people – not to the king, as has been deceitfully claimed. It was the ancestors of the people who protected the independence of the country from enemy armies. Those of royal blood just reap where they have not sown and sweep up wealth and property worth many hundred millions. Where did all this money come from? It came from the people because of that method of farming on the backs of the people! The country is experiencing hardships. Farmers and soldiers’ parents have to give up their paddy fields because cultivating them brings no benefit. The government does not help. The government is discharging people in floods. Students who have completed their study and soldiers released from the reserves have no employment. They have to go hungry according to fate. These things are the result of the government of the king above the law. It oppresses the minor government officials. Ordinary soldiers and clerks are discharged from employment, and no pension is given. In truth, government should use the money that has been amassed to manage the country to provide employment. This would be fitting to pay back the people who have been paying taxes to make royalty rich for a long time. But those of royal blood do nothing. They go on sucking blood. Whatever money they have they deposit overseas and prepare to flee while the country decays and people are left to go hungry. All this is certainly evil.

Therefore the people, government officials, soldiers, and citizens who know about these evil actions of the government, have joined together to establish the People’s Party and have seized power from the king’s government. The People’s Party sees that to correct this evil it must establish government by an assembly, so that many minds can debate and contribute, which is better than just one mind.

As for the head of state of the country, the People’s Party has no wish to snatch the throne. Hence it invites this king to retain the position. But he must be under the law of the constitution for governing the country, and cannot do anything independently without the approval of the assembly of people’s representatives. The People’s Party has already informed the king of this view and at the present time is waiting for a response. If the king replies with a refusal or does not reply within the time set, for the selfish reason that his power will be reduced, it will be regarded as treason to the nation, and it will be necessary for the country to have a republican form of government, that is, the head of state will be an ordinary person appointed by parliament to hold the position for a fixed term.

By this method the people can hope to be looked after in the best way. Everyone will have employment, because our country is a country which has very abundant conditions. When we have seized the money which those of royal blood amass from farming on the backs of the people, and use these many hundreds of millions for nurturing the country, the country will certainly flourish. The government which the People’s Party will set up will draw up projects based on principle, and not act like a blind man as the government which has the king above the law has done. The major principles which the People’s Party has laid out are:

1. must maintain securely the independence of the country in all forms including political, judicial, and economic, etc.;
2. must maintain public safety within the country and greatly reduce crime;
3. must improve the economic well-being of the people by the new government finding employment for all, and drawing up a national economic plan, not leaving the people to go hungry
4. must provide the people with equal rights (so that those of royal blood do not have more rights than the people as at present);
5. must provide the people with liberty and freedom, as far as this does not conflict with the above four principles;
6. must provide the people with full education.

All the people should be ready to help the People’s Party successfully to carry out its work which will last forever. The People’s Party asks everyone who did not participate in seizing power from the government of the king above the law to remain peaceful and keep working for their living. Do not do anything to obstruct the People’s Party. By doing so, the people will help the country, the people, and their own children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The country will have complete independence. People will have safety. Everyone must have employment and need not starve. Everyone will have equal rights and freedom from being serfs (phrai) and slaves (kha, that) of royalty. The time has ended when those of royal blood farm on the backs of the people. The things which everyone desires, the greatest happiness and progress which can be called si-ariya, will arise for everyone.

Khana Ratsadon

[People’s Party]

24 June 1932





Another royalist warning

22 06 2020

In a note at The Nation, yet another of the co-ordinated warnings to young Thais is reported.

Chakthip (clipped from The Nation)

The junta-appointed national police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda has “warned young people against taking political sides, saying they may be violating the Criminal Code’s sections 112 [lese majeste] and 116 [sedition].

He also warned that “Thai youngsters may be paying heed to information that violates the national security law or messages aired by political activists who are facing charges under the Computer Crimes Act.”

This repressive royalist rant has become increasingly strident as the absent king comes under pressure in Europe and is not missed in Thailand.

It also reflects an attempt by the regime to keep the lid on the anger over the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit and associated criticism of the monarch and regime.

The royalist rant also coincides with the run-up to the anniversary of the 1932 revolution that ended the absolute monarchy. This has resulted in lame efforts by the police and military to prevent any rally or sign of significance at the few monuments to the 1932 events that have escaped state vandals.

We know the king wants to wipe out all remaining memorials and memories of this event.

His minions have removed several monuments to 1932 and its promoters and he’s taken back several properties that had been removed from the monarchy after 1932.

As significant has been his rollback of post-1932 legal and constitutional measures that provided (limited) controls on the monarch’s economic and political power.

All this means that the king is likely to be paranoid that remembering 1932, especially by the young generation, amounts to anti-monarchism.





Monarchy and (more) repression

16 06 2020

With repression being deepened, the prime minister who seized power in the 2014 military coup and who remains in power through military might, his junta’s constitution and rigged elections, has issued a stern warning about anti-monarchism.

Of course, it is no coincidence that this warning comes after the enforced disappearance of Wanchalaerm Satsaksit, the piling on of lese majeste-like computer crimes charges for young social media figure “Niranam_” and ongoing protests in Europe against the king.

With a minion when the king was once in Thailand

As in the past, the regime imagines a plot and a movement led by some unnamed anonymous puppet-master.

Gen Prayuth lamented that what he thinks are “violations” of the lese majeste law “had increased since its use ceased 2-3 years ago.” He reportedly said the king “has … instructed me personally over the past two to three years to refrain from the use of the Law…”. While we already knew this from the king-supporting Sulak Sivaraksa, this is, we think, the first time an official has acknowledged this instruction.

(As an aside, we want to emphasize that under the previous king, royalists defended him on lese majeste by saying he was powerless to do anything about the law. Vajiralongkorn showed what a pile of buffalo manure that excuse was.)

The unelected PM saw anti-monarchism as doubly troubling as he believed that the king, by not using Article 112, had shown “mercy,” and this was being “abused.”

Gen Prayuth called for “unity” by which he means that royalists must defend the monarchy: “Everyone who loves the nation, religion, and monarchy must come together.” Oddly, he warned about the danger of “violent revolutions.” And, Reflecting a broader royalist concern, he worried that “anti-monarchists may use the upcoming anniversary [24 June] of the 1932 democratic revolution to defame the monarchy.”

And he warned that people should “disregard any messages that aim to harbor hatred in the society.” He means anti-monarchism. He added a pointed remark that PPT thinks is a threat:

Those who are operating from abroad should think about what they should or shouldn’t do, where else could if they faced problems in that country? I feel pity as they are Thai citizens.

In what appears as a coordinated warning, the Watchman, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan said “security officials” – that usually means the military – were already “investigating those involved” in this alleged anti-monarchist plot.

He was warning: “Once we get the list of names, we’ll prosecute them” using lese majeste-like laws including computer crimes and sedition.

Prayuth seemed to want Article 112 back, complaining that “[t]here were no such problems when Section 112 was in use,” which is actually buffalo manure. When the junta came to power, it repeatedly claimed republican plotting and used the lese majeste law more than any other regime, ever.

He went on to pile on lies and threats:

As a Thai, you must not believe distorted information or news from hatemongers because it’s not true. You must look behind [their motive] and see what they really want. … Why would you become their tool?

Targeting the young, he “urged people not to disseminate such information or click to read it, referring to social media.” It is easy to see why the regime has targeted “Niranam_”. They are making an example of him as a way to (they hope) silence others.

There’s also a hint that the regime is coming under pressure from royalists and perhaps even the palace itself to do something about the protests in Europe and criticism from exiles:

Regarding exiled people in neighbouring countries and Europe, he said the government had already sent letters asking those countries to send them back to Thailand if they caused trouble. “But when they don’t send them back, what do you expect the government to do?”

It seems clear that enforced disappearance and torture and murder is one outcome of displeasure with these dissidents.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

One response to these warnings has been social media disdain for the regime and the generals. Another response came from former Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich who called for the lese majeste law to be abolished: “they should get rid of this section of the criminal code as the MPs of the Move Forward Party have been saying in Parliament…”. For good measure, she also called for the Computer Crimes Act be amended.





Rising anger

12 06 2020

Two of the regime’s toady parties are in disarray and the Puea Thai opposition party is also having problems. This reflects the fact that political tensions are rising. Not only that, there seems to be rising anger against the military-backed regime and its symbiotic relationship with an erratic and absent king.

Some of this anger reflects disgust over the apparent enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit. As Thai PBS points out, he’s “not the first activist living in exile in a neighbouring country to mysteriously disappear since the 2014 military coup, and he may not be the last. It says that there are “at least 104 Thai political dissidents have sought refuge in other countries for coup-related reasons since the May 2014 military takeover.”

But Wanchalearm is the first of these activists who is not tagged as anti-monarchy, although the regime and its deep yellow supporters are trying to alter that. Wanchalearm is anti-regime. The reason he fled Thailand is because “after the 2014 coup, … he was summoned by the military. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) regime lodged a complaint when he failed to respond.” The regime then “issued an arrest warrant for Wanchalerm in June 2018 for allegedly violating the Computer Crimes Act…”.

 

Since the coup, the regime as junta and now as a post-junta military-backed regime, it has been repeatedly stated that the authorities are actively tracking down these exiles. Bigwigs like Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has often stated that his regime has been asking Lao and Cambodian officials to deport/extradite anti-monarchists and anti-regime critics.

 

Ii is probably no coincidence that, soon after the lese majeste law was put on hold by King Vajiralongkorn, “at least nine Thai activists who sought refuge in Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam, including Wanchalerm, have disappeared for unknown reasons and some were later found dead…”. (The report lists them. Note that the Thai Enquirer report below says 13 have disappeared.)

 

None of these cases has been resolved and the regime goes full Sgt Schultz – they know nothing. Worse, it does nothing. It allows the fear to fester and that fear is also associated with the king, who is widely believed to be a beneficiary of these disappearances and deaths.

 

But, as noted above, Wanchalearm’s case allows for a broader response within Thailand, with the dead weight of lese majeste missing. The report notes that:

 

Pressure from his family, local and international rights advocates, academics, student activists, politicians and several celebrities is mounting on both Thai and Cambodian governments, demanding that they investigate Wanchalerm’s abduction. On Tuesday, the Cambodian government … agreed to launch an investigation into the case.

 

Meanwhile, Gen Prawit “said that he had instructed the Foreign Ministry to look into the case…”. They won’t do anything.

 

Outside the regime, “Wanchalerm’s abduction has caught the attention of Thai citizens and netizens, with the hashtag #SaveWanchalerm trending on Twitter with more than 400,000 retweets last Friday.” Many have raised their voices. For example:

 

Former human-rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit has called on both the Thai and Cambodian governments to join forces in uncovering the facts of what has happened to Wanchalerm and making them public.

 

“Though he is in self-exile in Cambodia and holds opinions that are different from the government’s, as a Thai citizen, he should not be ignored otherwise the government may be suspected as an accomplice [in his disappearance],” she posted on Facebook.

 

Students, activists and ordinary citizens have gathered demanding information.

 

Even some who have opposed anti-monarchists are having second thoughts. The Thai Enquirer’s Cod Satrusayang, a monarchist in 2013, has decried the regime’s efforts to stigmatize Wanchalearm as involved in marijuana (so is the regime). He adds: “the fact is, the establishment will not stop trying to assassinate his character until there is enough reasonable doubt to dissipate the kidnapping rumours.”

Cod also says what everyone thinks: the disappearance of activists “who were critical of the establishment and the military … is too much of a coincidence to be random.” He adds: “It is likely that Thai security forces had some role in his disappearance.”

He laments that royalist, regime-loving hacks have celebrated Wanchalearm’s disappearance and created rumors to discredit him.

Is it a coincidence that this disappearance and the lese majeste-like charges against a young Twitter user come when the king is furious that he is being targeted in Germany? We are sure he blames exiles for his serenity in Bavaria being compromised.





Foreign minister dissembles

12 06 2020

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai is a tool. A tool of the junta when appointed. Yet he’s also a tool that enjoys the work he does for the junta/post-junta military-backed regime. The ministry he heads is a nest of elitists and royalists.

Recently, Rangsiman Rome of the Move Forward Party and a spokesman of the House committee on legal affairs, justice and human rights, asked parliamentary questions about Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s disappearance. Rangsiman said: “The government isn’t paying any attention. Since Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha came to power, nine activists have disappeared. But the government has not given any explanation…”.

Don (clipped from Bangkok Post)

Foreign Minister Don’s dissembling response was execrable. He lied that “Wanchalearm bears little significance in terms of international and security affairs, so he should not be considered a threat to security.” He didn’t explain why the regime had been chasing him since the 2014 military coup.

Regarding Wanchalearm’s disappearance, Don said “Cambodia is investigating the matter and all the Thai government can do is to ask Cambodia to follow up on the case…. We cannot speculate as to his whereabouts until we receive an answer [from Cambodia]…”. Of course, this sidesteps the issue that it was most likely Thai operatives who grabbed the man – “Cambodian National Police spokesman Pol Lt Gen Chhay Kim Khoeun insisted Cambodian authorities did not arrest the activist…”. Don’s response also ignores the questions regarding all the other disappearances and murders. Nothing done on them, either.

Commenting on the same parliamentary exchange, the Thai Enquirer reports that Don also felt moved to comment on Article 112, the lese majeste law. He claimed “that people affected by the enforcement of Article 112 … was not a priority and the majority of people simply didn’t care about the law.”

Rangsiman responded: “If the Minister says that [Article 112] is not important, allow me to ask, why was #Cancel112 a top trend on twitter then?”

Reportedly, Don lied that “various international organizations are reporting this issue … just to attract attention and call[ed] out foreign journalists for creating fake news…”.

Don’s lese majeste comments are a part of a wider campaign to denigrate Wanchalerm. By linking him with anti-monarchists, the regime seeks to limit the support his case has gained – when lese majeste is alleged, not only do rabid royalists begin wagging their tails, but censorship/self-censorship restrict discussion.

We also think that such dissembling is an admission that monarchy is a central issue in not just Wanchalerm’s disappearance, but that of the eight others who have been disappeared or killed. When the authorities refuse to be involved, this is more like confirmation of these unspoken admissions.





Piling on computer-cum-lese majeste charges

11 06 2020

About a week ago, PPT posted on the prosecutor’s delay in the computer crimes-cum-lese majeste case against “Niranam_”, a Twitter name (meaning “Anonymous”). He is a 20-year-old Twitter user, accused of insulting the country’s monarchy.

Since Vajiralongkorn took the throne there has been a winding back of the use of the lese majeste law and, for the last couple of years, no cases that anyone has reported on. However, this change coincided with a rise in computer crimes and sedition charges against those accused of “insulting” the monarch and a string of enforced disappearances and murder of exiled anti-monarchy critics

In congruence with these trends, Prachatai reports that already arrested over a tweet about King Vajiralongkorn, “Niranam_” is now slapped with “7 more charges over tweets about the late King Rama IX and the King Rama X, seen as a threat to national security.”

The “threat” seems to be that “Niranam_” had tens of thousands of followers and especially teenagers.

The report states that “[i]f found guilty on all 8 charges, Niranam_ faces a maximum of 40 years in prison (maximum 5 years for each charge).”

He is now charged with uploading “false data” that included “photos of the two kings.” The charge is that there was “photo doctoring with the intention of undermining the monarch … tantamount to an offence against national security.”

Police are reportedly still investigating and then the state prosecutor will decide on which cases will go to court.

With the regime facing rising discontent and the absent king facing protests in Germany it seems that the knee-jerk regime/palace response is demonstrate its capacity for terror and repression through making examples of people like “Niranam_” and Wanchalearm Satsaksit.





With 3 updates: Campaigning for Wanchalearm

9 06 2020

Update 1: Apologies to readers. Some of our earlier version of this post was left unedited. We have fixed that now.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s enforced disappearance has been taken up by Thai activists and some of the international media.

In a story with worldwide impact, Thomson Reuters reports that the exile’s kidnapping has sparked protests. These aren’t just about Wanchalearm but all of the now “missing” or deceased exiles. As the report explains, the agitation has expanded “reignit[ing] protests against Thailand’s military-royalist elite, with some online questioning a law banning criticism of the monarchy.”

There were protesters at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok: “Dozens of protesters outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok demanded an investigation into the disappearance and accused the Thai state of orchestrating his kidnapping, which Thailand’s police and government have denied.” According to Khaosod, the “protesters submitted a petition to the mission’s secretary and placed posters calling for justice on the embassy’s wall.”

Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and other protesters at the Cambodian Embassy

Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan deflected criticism, saying the matter is one for Cambodia. Previous disappearances have seen no action at all from the Thai authorities, convincing many that the perpetrator/s are protected.

Posters “labelled ‘Missing’ appeared around Bangkok featuring photos of Wanchalearm and other [disappeared] critics of military governments…” appeared around Bangkok. Claimed to be “the work of the Spring Movement, a small group of students at Bangkok’s elite Chulalongkorn University…”, officials working hard to remove them.

One group member told Reuters: “We do not know who directly ordered the abduction, but we can see the ruling elite of this country does not care about this issue.”

Suddenly, there seemed a general “feeling” about “who directly ordered the abduction,” with the hashtag “#abolish112” trending on “Twitter, used or retweeted more than 450,000 times by midday on Monday.” The reporters involved sought a response from the palace! An official said: “The palace has no comment on this issue…”.

Oddly, according to Khaosod, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees also responded saying “the organization cannot give any opinion or information about the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit.” We assume this reflects the royalist domestication of UN agencies in Bangkok.

Some celebrities – presumably of some significance in Thailand – have taken up Wanchalearm’s case, with Maria Poonlertlarp, a “former Miss Universe Thailand … add[ing] her voice to the growing campaign for the Thai and Cambodian governments to explain the disappearance of Wanchalerm…”. On Instagram she used the #SaveWanchalerm hashtag “calling for  answers from authorities about his disappearance.”

Often timid on such matters, the Puea Thai Party “also called on the government to use diplomatic channels to find his whereabouts.” Sudarat Keyuraphan stated: “He is a Thai citizen that the government is duty bound to protect…”.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee is asking questions. Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome, who serves as the committee on law and human rights spokesman, “said the government must be held accountable for the incident.” He stated that the committee “will summon the national police commissioner [Gen Chakthip Chaijinda] to testify about … [Wanchalearm’s] fate…”. He also said others like Special Branch Police commissioner Maj Gen ‎Sarawut Karnpanit and consular affairs department chief Chatri Atjananan would be called to meet the committee. Rangsman observed: “It is the obligation of the government to protect its citizens. On top of that, Wanchalearm has contributed to many youth welfare and other charitable organizations.”

The Bangkok Post reports that the Active Thai Citizen group, led by Kan Wattanasupang, also a member of the Move Forward Party, submitted a petition to the House of Representatives. Kan said “the government must seek to protect all Thai citizens regardless of differences in political ideology.” He added: “We cannot let such gross human rights violations happen to those with political different ideas. In the past, political dissidents have been victims of intimidation, assault or even enforced disappearance,” raising the “mysterious disappearances of other political dissidents including Wuthipong … Kochathamakun and Surachai Danwattananusorn.”

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Remarkably, there’s also a report about the decrepit, regime-controlled National Human Rights Commission, claiming some role:

Thailand’s state-sanctioned human rights agency on Monday denies turning a blind eye to the spate of abduction targeting Thai dissidents living overseas.

In a phone interview today, What Tingsamitr, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said his organization has acknowledged the latest case of disappearance, that of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit. However, What said no formal investigation opens yet because no one has filed a complaint with them.

“We are keeping our eyes on the issue,” What said. “We can’t take action right away since it happened outside the country. We admit that we don’t have power beyond our boundary, but we can coordinate with the foreign ministry and forward the case to Cambodian authorities.”

The case is certainly a “grave violation” of human rights if it has been proven to be an enforced disappearance, he added.

To date we have seen nothing at all of significance from the supine NHRC on any of the disappearances and murder.

What said:

“We have already published reports on many abductees in the past,” What said. “But it’s up to the government and legislators to take the issue seriously. Thailand has signed the UN convention against enforced disappearance since 2012, but it never became a law.”

But its done nothing else. Writing a report does not imply investigation.

Fellow exile Ji Ungpakorn has commented, pointedly observing: “No one should be under the illusion that Thailand has returned to democracy, despite recent elections. The military is still very much in charge and the repression continues.” So has Yammy Faiyen, who recently fled Laos for asylum in France, although her comments will probably be blocked.

At the Bangkok Post, columnist Atiya Achakulwisut bravely speaks some truths. We reproduce in full:

It might be because “it could happen to you”.

It could also be an accumulation of bitterness and frustration, built up over decades of hearing about this or that person suddenly dying or disappearing without a trace or explanation.

It could even be a paradigm shift at long last when the new generation is no longer tied to old norms or affected by traditional fear and dares to express in public what was once considered taboo.

It could be a bit of everything but the day has come when a forced disappearance which would generate only quiet whispers in the past is now causing a genuine public uproar.

The disappearance of anti-government activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was allegedly abducted outside his apartment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last Thursday, has been covered by mainstream media.

Chulalongkorn as well as Thammasat University student organisations issued statements condemning the alleged forced disappearance and urged the Thai government to take a stance.

The incident has been widely discussed on social media, especially Twitter where the hashtag #save has drawn hundreds of thousands of tweets.

The outrage and demand for the Thai government to take action are welcoming for the human rights cause although they can be considered surprising considering Wanchalearm was not that well-known.

The Ubon Ratchathani native was against the coup and military rule. He was also wanted by authorities for defying a National Council for Peace and Order summons to report after the 2014 putsch.

In 2018, Wanchalearm was subject to another arrest warrant for violating the Computer Crime Act by operating a Facebook page critical of the government.

The activist has been living in self-imposed exile for more than six years, claiming his political stance led to harassment and other threats to his life.

Now that he has gone missing, a seemingly small player unlikely to affect a sea change in the grand scheme of things, his plight has struck a chord with many people.

Alongside news of his disappearance, photos of Wanchalearm, almost all of them showing the bespectacled 37-year-old grinning, have also surfaced everywhere. A little-known name has become a real person. Wanchalearm has become not just an anti-whatever activist but a son, a brother, a friend.

Indeed, he could be any one of us.

Wanchalearm may harbour anti-coup thoughts. He may have voiced disapproval of military rule or other forms of suppression. But do these thoughts constitute a crime?

Do people deserve to “disappear” because they are critical of something powerful?

Wanchalearm had left the country, yet he could be made to disappear in broad daylight in Phnom Penh, taken by a group of armed men according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) citing witnesses and CCTV images. Cambodian police said they knew nothing about it.

Who could be capable of executing such an operation?

As Wanchalearm’s sister Sitanan begged the Thai government and international agencies to help find her brother, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry suggested the HRW report could be “fake news” while the Thai government has made no response.

Today marks the sixth day since Wanchalearm “disappeared”.

Since the 2014 coup, about a hundred political activists exiled themselves to other countries. Of these, at least six have gone missing while two were found dead, according to BBC Thai.

Wanchalearm is definitely not the first suspected of being “carried away”. The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances reports 82 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances in Thailand since 1980.

These include Somchai Neelapaijit in 2004, Karen land rights defender Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014 and political activists Siam Theerawut, Chucheep Chivasut and Kritsana Thapthai during 2018-19.

It is possible that the #save trend and collective anger against the alleged forced disappearance could end up like other save someone or something hashtags before it — making no difference to the oppressive, unaccountable power culture in Thailand and becoming just another footnote in the country’s decades-long political struggle.

But one thing is clear — his plight has roused the public like never before. His story has been openly discussed, and not just in a quiet whisper. The fear usually associated with such a “disappearance” is gone.

Will this awakening turn out to be a real force for change? For once, it may be the turn of the other side to be fearful.

There may be whispering about the case and even some high-profile expression in Thailand. But that which can only be written about outside Thailand is speculation that “the operation to seize activist Wanchalearm Satstaksit was ordered by King Vajiralongkorn.”

Update 2: AP reports that “Cambodian authorities say they are willing to investigate the reported abduction of an exiled Thai dissident in Cambodia’s capital, though they claim to have been unaware of his presence for several years.” We won’t be holding our breath on that one. Meanwhile, in Bangkok, the regime repressed those raising awareness of the case, with police arresting four students … tying white ribbons at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument in protest against the apparent forced disappearances of Wanchalearm and other victims. They were accused of violating littering and traffic laws.”

Update 3: Khaosod reports that officials are busy in Bangkok erasing murals and tearing up posters that were raising awareness of Wanchalearm’s disappearance. Such actions will be seen by many as admissions of the regime’s complicit role in the enforced disappearance.





Updated: Enforced disappearances and political repression

7 06 2020

The government continues to deny any knowledge of Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s apparent enforced disappearance. It also avers that it can’t do anything to investigate. It is the “We know nothing” response.

But this ruse is weakened when former security officials blabber on. In this case we have regime supporter and former deputy director of the National Intelligence Agency, Nantiwat Samart sowing seeds of doubt by urging “the public not to jump to conclusions.” He claims Wanchalearm may not have been abducted or killed.

He lies that Thailand’s military doesn’t have capacity for such operations – despite the fact that they have been conducting cross-border operations for decades and having several special forces units including some recently trained units capable of such operations. In addition, it is known that, less than a month ago, police visited Wanchalearm’s mother demanding information on his location.

Contradicting himself he then claims that Thia units would not have abducted the activist as he is just not important enough for such an operation.

Meanwhile, human rights defender Angkhana Neelapaijit – who knows a lot about enforced disappearances – advises the regime to act:

“The government would be cast in a bad light — as an accessory [to the disappearance] — if it is not active in solving this case,” Ms Angkhana said. “Despite Mr Wanchalearm being critical against the government, he is a Thai citizen.”

Thai authorities must work with the Cambodian government to solve this case, the former human rights commissioner added.

Ms Angkhana believes the Cambodian government would take an active role in solving Mr Wanchalearm’s disappearance as the country ratified the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2013.

The Mirror Foundation has announced that Wanchalearm is considered a missing person and that the Foundation will “raise awareness about his abduction.” It said that its “members are making a missing person report assuming that it was a case of forced disappearance.”

The Nation reports that others have expressed their concern. Police used the now common virus emergency decree excuse to restrict a protest on Friday that drew attention to the abduction. The report states that a “group of protesters gathered on the Bangkok Skywalk in Pathumwan district…”.

The Bangkok Post has an editorial that considers the abduction and the others over the past couple of years “speak volumes of how the country’s democracy is phoney.”

We never thought the junta’s “democracy” was anything of the sort, but thought that the Post could have observed that these abductions have been used since the king decided that lese majeste should be toned down.

The Post calls for speech to be freed and for the computer crimes law and other “unjust laws” to be revised. We can’t see the military-backed regime doing anything, either on the enforced disappearances or reducing repression.

Update: AFP reports that Wanchalearm’s family have “pleaded Sunday for his release…”. They said: “Please release Wanchalearm. We will look forward to this with hope…. We hope this enforced disappearance will be the last time.”