Thai Activist’s Sister Marks First Anniversary of His Disappearance in Cambodia

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2021-06-04
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Thai Activist’s Sister Marks First Anniversary of His Disappearance in Cambodia Sitanan Satsaksit (left), sister of Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit who went missing in Cambodia in 2020, is joined by activists in Bangkok commemorating the first anniversary of his disappearance, June 4, 2021.
AFP

The sister of a Thai activist who was abducted in Cambodia marked the first anniversary of his disappearance Friday by filing a petition with the Thai justice ministry demanding that it investigate his case and coordinate efforts with Khmer authorities.

Sitanan Satsaksit, who was accompanied by Amnesty International (AI), said she had not received any answers about her brother, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, from the Thai attorney general’s office and other government officials.

“One year on, we lost everything, money, time, hearts that are broken, expenses – which are immeasurable. But we chose to pay just to bring justice to our family and the families of another eight men who have vanished,” Sitanan told BenarNews outside the Ministry of Justice, referring to other activists missing abroad.

Wanchalearm apparently was abducted by gunmen on June 4, 2020, in front of his Phnom Penh apartment complex, a day after he posted a video on Facebook criticizing the Thai government.

He was speaking to his sister on the phone when he was grabbed.

“Argh! Can’t breathe” were the last words that Sitanan heard her brother say as he vanished.

According to Human Rights Watch, since Prayuth Chan-o-cha led the May 2014 coup that allowed him to become prime minister, Thai authorities aggressively pursued pro-democracy activists who sought refuge in neighboring countries.

The government has demanded that Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia hand over exiled Thai activists in those countries, and at least eight have become victims of enforced disappearance, HRW said.

Wanchalearm had fled to Cambodia from Thailand after Thai authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in June 2018, accusing him of violating the Computer Crimes Act for operating a Facebook page deemed critical of the Thai government.

A friend said surveillance footage showed Wanchalearm being driven away in a black SUV, according to a report in the Thai news portal Prachatai. A security guard had tried to help Wanchalearm, but his kidnappers were armed, Prachatai said.

Thanakrit Jitareerat, a secretary to Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin, promised on Friday that there would be an investigation into the disappearance, after receiving Sitanan’s letter.

“A Thai person cannot just disappear, there must be [a] trace. I will follow it up and will inform of the progress,” Thanakrit told reporters accompanying Sitanan.

In response, Sitanan said, “We will see what they can do, they asked for a month before they can tell us if progress has been made,” adding that she and her family did not expect justice from officials in Thailand and Cambodia. “We will let them have time to work on it, but we will certainly follow up.”

Noting that Wanchalearm apparently went missing in Cambodia, Thanakrit said authorities had reached out to their counterparts about the case.

“The Rights and Liberties Protection Department said it had set up a screening committee for enforced disappearances and informed the National Police Bureau, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the Central Institute of Forensic Science to follow up,” he said. “Legally, we have to deal with the Office of Attorney General which handles cases abroad,” he said.

“The DSI has sent a letter to Cambodian authorities and is awaiting their reply.”

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the activist’s reported abduction, AI blamed the Cambodian government for failing to conduct a proper investigation into Wanchalearm’s disappearance, and called on Thai authorities to launch an independent probe.

“This negligent investigation is at a standstill. The past year has been marked by foot-dragging, finger-pointing and the absence of any credible effort to examine what really happened to Wanchalearm,” said Ming Yu Hah, AI’s deputy regional director for Campaigns. “This so-called investigation is an insult to Wanchalearm and his family and must be reinvigorated.”

While calling for an independent Thai investigation, Ming Yu expressed some reservations.

“In light of the criminal charges the Thai authorities had filed against Wanchalearm, in addition to the deeply disturbing pattern of enforced disappearance of Thai exiles from neighboring countries in recent years, a truly independent investigation free from government interference is desperately required,” she said in a news release.

HRW, meanwhile, blamed both nations for a lack of progress during the last year.

Brad Adams, Asia director for the watchdog group, called on the international community to push the two nations.

“The Cambodian and Thai governments can’t sweep what happened to Wanchalearm under the rug,” Adams said in a news release. “Foreign governments and donors should press both the Cambodian and Thai authorities to take all necessary measures to find Wanchalearm and provide justice for him and his family.”

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