The wives of three men who disappeared under mysterious circumstances years ago – including a Thai lawyer who has been missing since March 2004 - appeared Monday before reporters in Bangkok to discuss their ongoing ordeals.
Angkhana Neelapaijit, the wife of lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, joined Shui-Meng Ng and Pinnapa Preuksapan, the respective spouses of Laotian civil society leader Sombath Somphone and ethnic Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, for a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.
Sombath, a winner of Asia’s Magsaysay Award, disappeared in Laos in December 2012. Billy vanished in Thailand’s Petchburi province in April 2014. The three wives believe their husbands were kidnapped.
“We are the pictures of pain and suffering. Suffering that nobody would understand, if it had not happened to their loved ones,” Shui-Meng reporters.
Billy’s wife shared her grief.
“After Billy was gone, I immediately became another person. Life has been difficult, I have to do everything possible to take care of five children and elderly parents,” Pinnapa said. “I have to take care of the whole family and to be both a father and a mother to the children.”
For someone who had never traveled to the city before her husband’s disappearance, Pinnapa said she now spends much of her time away from home as she travels and tells her story.
The women said they decided to meet with reporters because they needed help from mainstream and social media in their campaign to raise awareness against forced disappearances.
Police acquitted in Somchai’s abduction
“In 2012, the government of Yingluck Shinawatra paid compensation to my family. But the money did not help,” Angkhana said.
Her husband chaired the Thai Muslim Lawyers’ Association and was representing suspects from Thailand’s predominantly Islamic Deep South when he vanished on the streets of Bangkok 12 years ago.
“Though it made my family more comfortable and we have a bigger house, it does not give us the truth about what had happened,” she said.
In March 2004, Somchai was handling a high-profile lawsuit alleging torture of Muslim suspects by police in the Deep South when he was pulled from his car on Ramkhamhaeng Road, never to be seen again.
In January 2006, the administration of then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra acknowledged that government officials were involved in Somchai’s abduction, according to Human Rights Watch. Despite that acknowledgment, five police officers who had been implicated in Somchai’s abduction were acquitted of charges in December 2015 when the Thai Supreme Court ruled that evidence against them was too weak.
‘Delay, denial, and cover up’
Eight years later, Sombath disappeared in Laos. Video footage showed Sombath’s Jeep being stopped at a police checkpoint. He was herded into a white truck and taken away.
Police vowed to investigate, but Laotian authorities backtracked, claiming they could not confirm that Sombath was the man taken from the Jeep. No trace of Sombath or the Jeep have been found, Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, reported last week in a story marking the anniversary of his disappearance.
Marking the fourth anniversary of Sombath’s disappearance, Human Rights Watch (HRW) challenged Vientiane’s efforts in its investigation.
“Since the start, the Lao government’s investigation of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance has been a pattern of delay, denial, and cover-up,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director. “Four years on, Sombath’s family is no closer to learning the truth about his fate than they were in the weeks after he went missing.”
‘Kindly do not forget us’
More recently, Billy was last seen in April 2014 near Kaeng Krachan National Park in Petchburi province, 100 miles (161 km) south of Bangkok.
Billy was expected to testify the next day as a witness for ethnic Karen farmers. He was helping the farmers who live in Pongluek-Bangkloy, a village near the national park, who were seeking compensation after park officials allegedly set fire to several homes in 2011.
“The most horrific fear of victims of forced disappearance is that their stories will be lost,” Shui-Meng said. “So I want to appeal this to media and all in this place, kindly do not forget us.”