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.

Injustice and hunting dissidents

22 05 2019

The Thai Alliance for Human Rights has post reproducing the ไทย text of a statement by the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights and an unofficial translation to English. The statement is “The Hunting of Dissidents who are Refugees in other Countries.” It begins:

The political conflict over the past several decades doesn’t only cause problems for the people arrested, imprisoned, and charged with crimes, or those who die and are wounded. It also causes problems for the many people who flee to other countries, because Thai law and society don’t give any space to people with opinions that are quite different. Meanwhile, the justice procedures are not in a condition that they can assure justice. Most of those political refugees not only must live with difficulty, they must also be ready to flee those who hunt them extra-judicially, as this sort of violence has increased continuously from 2016 until now.

Its calls for the protection of dissidents in other countries. Importantly, that call is also directed to the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, saying the UN “must give protection to the Thai refugees in a systematic and serious way…”.

Updated: What royalists want

14 01 2015

Royalists are a demanding lot. They want loyalty. They want order. They want ideological correctness. They want all their opponents and those who do not fit their fundamentalist position locked up or silenced. Because of this desire to silence, repress and oppress, they relish the use of Article 112 or the lese majeste law as it is quite effective in generating self-censorship and is effective in jailing those who bravely speak out.

This is why we see royalists, and especially those who serve the military dictatorship, going after those considered disloyal, even when they have a history of mental illness. Because they paranoiac themselves, perhaps they do not notice psychiatric problems in others. Or perhaps they are just very nasty and very vindictive and consider that making a lesson out of every “violator” is important in maintaining their fundamental maxims of loyalty, order and ideological correctness.

This is why they create hatred against those they see as enemies. That hatred can result in jailing, torture, bashing and other attacks by thugs, online harassment and more. The most recent example involves the incitement of supporters to attack the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In recent days, the ‘UNHCR Thailand’ Facebook page has closed following online attacks and threats by royalists unhappy that lese majeste victim Ekaphop Luera was granted political refuge in New Zealand.

Prachatai states that “[h]undred[s] of hate comments from the Thai royalists were … showered the page[s]” of royalist vigilantes. For example, the ultra-royalist V for Thailand Facebook page says: “The next measure is to pressure the UNHCR to get out of Thailand.”  People’s Alliance for Democracy fascist Suriyasai Katasila as supporting the attacks on the UNHCR.

In the end, royalists want a return to feudalism or at least a return to mid-20th century military authoritarianism that suppresses all opponents of the existing order.

Update: And, yes, they also want to be rewarded for their royalist fundamentalism. Khaosod reports that that amember of the Thai junta’s [puppet] reform body has suggested that all of his colleagues receive royal decorations as a reward for the ‘sacrifices’ they are making for the country.” PPT choked on our mid-afternoon khao nieow mamuang at the local food court.


Abhisit regime again targets refugees

2 02 2011

AFP has a report, building on several others over the past week, regarding Human Rights Watch’s call for the Thai government to “urgently allow the UN refugee agency access to more than 200 detained boat people who are at risk of ‘atrocious’ persecution in Myanmar [Burma]…”.

There are now some  226 from the Rohingya ethnic group in Thailand and they are apparently “being prepared for repatriation…”. Yet another forced repatriation!

HRW says that “Thailand has repeatedly refused to give the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to the detainees…”. Of course they have. This is government policy.

We do not lie. Of course they do.

11 02 2010

The Irrawaddy (10 February 2010) reports on the ongoing case of the expected forced repatriation of Karen refugees at Tha Song Yang camp in the country’s north.

The report states that, at a forum involving various Thai government ministries and agencies, along with representatives of the military and international organizations, a Thai Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesperson said that [the Karen ] …have expressed a willingness to return to Burma.” MOFA also claimed “that the area from which the refugees fled in June 2006 is clear of landmines, according to information received from the Burmese side of the border.” And, MOFA also claims that “there was no indication that the fighting between the junta-aligned Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) was going to resume anytime soon.”

MOFA’s statements were supported by a military representative who opined: “We speak the truth about recent events. We would never force people to go back.” He added: “although I wish I could give you more information about these issues, I have been busy with other matters recently.”

Of course the army doesn’t engage in forcible repatriation or other reprehensible behaviors! Those 150 Hmong with visas for third countries that they’d been waiting for months and years really did want to go back to Laos. And all those Rohinga boat people really wanted to be set adrift at sea last year.

Just a few days ago PPT heard a Democrat Party member claiming that the whole issue of sending back asylum seekers was against government policy and a plot by Thaksin people in the army to destabilize the government. Maybe it’s also a plot by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to destabilize his own government.

Our cynicism is warranted when Guiseppe de Vicentis, the deputy regional representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says “there is ample evidence that there are landmines on the Burmese side.” He says the situation on the Burma side is not safe. The Thailand-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) “said that at least nine people have been injured or killed by landmines in the region since the refugees fled in June 2009.”

The TBBC also confirmed that the military lied when it claimed that international representatives participated in a process that saw three Karen families repatriated last week. TBBC said international agencies “were prevented from accessing the Karen refugee camps prior to the repatriation…”.

PPT knows the UNHCR and the TBBC has more credibility on these issues that Thai bureaucrats and the military.

Coming out of self-imposed hibernation and seemingly being ignorant of Burma’s political circumstances, National Human Rights Commission chair Amara Ponsapich suggested that international mine-clearance experts be given access to the affected region inside Burma, to determine whether it was clear of mines or not. She asked if the Thai authorities would facilitate this operation as best they could from their side of the border.

Thailand’s National Security Council told the forum that Thai policy is first to ensure harmony and cooperation with its neighbors.” That seems far more accurate an assessment. Forget human rights and the lives of refugees as the Democrat Party-led government follows the well-worn Thai path to the natural resources and assumed wealth of Burma.

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