Updated at 4:53 p.m. ET on 2019-05-16
Thai authorities on Friday denied knowledge about the possible extradition from Vietnam of three critics of Thailand’s monarchy and military junta, in response to claims from human rights groups that the men were being held in Bangkok.
The Vietnamese government returned Thai citizens Chucheep Chivasut, Siam Theerawut (alias Comrade Khaoneaw Mamuang), and Kritsana Thapthai (alias Comrade Young Blood) to Thailand on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) said earlier Friday in separate statements. They based their information on reports from Thai media and a local NGO, the Thai Alliance for Human Rights.
The three had been arrested in Hanoi for illegal entry and using fake travel documents as they tried to flee persecution from Thai authorities, New York-based HRW said.
Thailand’s deputy prime minister responded to the claims.
“No, I haven’t seen any (official) reports. I heard from websites,” Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters. “The confirmation must come from the Foreign Ministry and special branch of police.”
BenarNews questioned Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks about the trio.
“We have no knowledge,” Busadee replied.
Officials with Special Branch and the police’s Crime Suppression Division could not be immediately reached for comment.
The reported extradition of the three Thai dissidents occurred after Truong Duy Nhat, a blogger working for the Vietnamese Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA) – a BenarNews sister service –disappeared from a shopping mall near Bangkok in January. He had fled Vietnam in 2017 to escape arrest over his activism.
In late March, RFA’s Vietnamese Service confirmed that agents from Hanoi had taken Nhat back to Vietnam. That fueled suspicions that Thai authorities had cooperated in his abduction. The blogger was now in a jail cell in the Vietnamese capital, Nhat’s daughter told RFA.
Among the Thai dissidents, Chucheep Chivasut, better known as Lung (Uncle) Sanam Luang, is an avid supporter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was deposed in a coup in 2006 but continues to exert influence on Thai politics while in exile.
A disc-jockey, Chucheep broadcast critical program against the military and the monarchy. He apparently fled to Laos after then-junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha toppled the government of Shinawatra’s sister, Yingluck, in May 2014, and vowed to eradicate anti-monarchists.
Chucheep’s program was last heard on Jan. 28, according to his YouTube channel record. Until then, he produced at least two broadcasts weekly.
“The Thai government should immediately disclose the whereabouts of three activists who were reportedly extradited from Hanoi to Bangkok,” Human Rights Watch said. “Thai authorities have not acknowledged their arrest and detention, raising grave concerns that they have become victims of enforced disappearance.”
Thai authorities previously accused the three of violating the kingdom’s strict Lese-Majeste law that criminalizes royal defamation and carries a prison sentence of three to 15 years if convicted, according to HRW.
The men were accused, Human Rights Watch said, of broadcasting anti-monarchy radio programs over the internet and mobilizing supporters of Chucheep’s Organization for Thai Federation to wear black T-shirts while demonstrating in Bangkok and other provinces.
“Both Thailand and Vietnam refused knowledge in the matter which usually end up with someone missing or dead,” Sunai Phasuk, HRW senior Thai researcher told BenarNews on Friday, adding Thailand had signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The men’s alleged extradition took place less than a week after Thailand officially crowned 66-year-old King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (or Rama X), in an elaborate ceremony stretched over three days.
His coronation unfolded soon before the Election Commission unveiled the latest set of results from the March 24 general election that appeared to put a pro-junta party on the verge of forming the first government after five years of military rule.
Also on Friday, Amnesty International joined HRW’s efforts to locate the three Thai activists.
“We call on Thai authorities to acknowledge whether they are in military or police custody and establish their whereabouts,” said Minar Pimple, AI’s senior director for global operations. “If they are in state custody, we urge authorities to ensure that the three men are held in an official place of detention and have immediate access to independent lawyers, doctors and family members.
“We also call on authorities to either charge them with a recognizable criminal offense in line with international standards or release them from custody, and not penalize them for their exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” he said.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that RFA had confirmed Thai authorities had cooperated in Nhat's abduction.