Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha on Monday warned activists not to criticize the monarchy while at the same time dismissing reports linking a Thai activist’s disappearance in Cambodia to alleged violations of Lese-Majeste.
Since Wanchalearm Satsaksit went missing earlier this month, the Thai and Cambodian governments have denied having any role in the incident, even as some social media posts have linked the Thai palace to his disappearance.
“The worrying thing is the undermining, criticizing of the monarchy. I beg all of you not to believe in distorted information or disseminate information to create hatred,” Prayuth told reporters. “I need to say this today because I want Thailand to stay peaceful.”
He added that the Kingdom’s strict Lese-Majeste law, which criminalizes royal defamation with prison sentences of up to 15 years per offense, had not been applied recently.
“What I want all Thais to know is that, lately Article 112 has not been used. Do you know why? Because the King has mercy and advised us not to exercise the law,” Prayuth said, adding he received the advice in person a couple of years ago.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who succeeded his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, following his death in October 2016, has spent much of his reign in Germany.
In reporting about Wanchalearm’s disappearance, the Isra News Agency reported that the activist had been charged with violating the Lese-Majeste law. The article was picked up by other media.
But Krisana Pattanacharoen, deputy spokesman for Thailand’s national police bureau, earlier stated that Wanchalearm was charged with violating the Computer Crimes Act in 2018.
“To link things that have no correlation is not accurate. What happened abroad is just what happened there. No [Thai officials] would dare to do that,” Prayuth said, referring to the apparent abduction in Cambodia.
Wanchalearm, 37, apparently was abducted by a group of armed men near a Phnom Penh condominium on June 4 and driven away in an SUV.
He had fled to Cambodia from Thailand after Thai authorities issued a June 2018 warrant for his arrest, accusing him of violating the Computer Crimes Act for operating a Facebook page deemed critical of the Thai government.
U.N. probe request
According to Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk, the United Nations has presented a request to the Cambodian government’s representative in Geneva to urgently investigate the disappearance.
“The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights received a petition and acted according to International Protocol for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearances,” Sunai told BenarNews. “Cambodia, a party to the protocol, needs to reply in two weeks. The U.N. will disclose the information from Cambodia to the missing man’s relatives.”
Wanchalearm’s sister, Sitanan Satsaksit, said she was glad to hear of the U.N. response. Sitanan has said she was on the phone with her brother when he was snatched.
“Our family wants him back. I’m praying every day that he remains alive,” she told BenarNews on Monday. “It has been quite a while since he disappeared but I hope both governments find the truth as soon as possible.”
U.N. officials did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.
Since the 2014 coup led by Prayuth overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra, at least 104 people have fled the country over fears of prosecution, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
At least 98 people were charged with violating Lese-Majeste, and 119 others with sedition, during the same time period, according to iLaw, an online legal advocate group. Authorities also have filed charges under the Computer-Related Crime Act.
Civilian rule was officially restored last year through the Thai general election, which critics said was engineered to keep Prayuth in power.