A montage of Wanchalearm Satkasit and CCTV footage allegedly showing his abudction in Phno Penh on 4 June 2020. Prachathai

Cambodia: Investigate whereabouts of missing Thai dissident

Following reports that Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a 37-year old activist, was abducted by unknown persons from outside an apartment building in Phnom Penh, David Griffiths, Director in the Office of the Secretary-General at Amnesty International, said:

“The Cambodian authorities must urgently investigate Wanchalearm’s alleged abduction in order to establish his whereabouts. The Thai authorities must also confirm whether Wanchalearm was arrested at their request.

“Until more information comes to light, it’s critical that Cambodia treat this shocking case with the utmost urgency. If he is located, he must not be returned to Thailand where he likely faces persecution.

“If Wanchalearm is being detained, authorities should confirm whether he is in military or police custody. If he is in state custody, we urge authorities to ensure that he is held in an official place of detention and has immediate access to independent lawyers, doctors and family members.

“This would not be the first time that Thai citizens have vanished after expressing their political opinions. Wanchalearm is outspoken on social media – his sudden disappearance in a violent incident is deeply alarming.”

Background

Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, is a Thai activist in exile in Cambodia. A relative reported his abduction on 4 June, after speaking to him on the phone at 17.54 while Wanchalearm left his flat to purchase food.

His relative stated that their conversation abruptly ended with Wanchalearm stating that he was choking and could not breathe. When the relative made enquiries at Wanchalearm’s apartment block some 30 minutes later, CCTV footage reportedly showed a Honda Highlander sedan departing from outside the condominium. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Wanchalearm’s Facebook page states he is in exile because he supports democracy. Thai authorities filed outstanding charges against him, most recently in 2018 under the Computer Crimes Act, alleging that he had posted anti-government material on a Facebook page called “I will certainly receive 100 million from Thaksin”. They reportedly requested his extradition from Cambodian authorities at the time. They also filed charges against him for failing to report to summons issued in 2014 to a wide range of activists and political figures after the military coup in May of that year. Prior to exile he was a youth and HIV activist and also managed an HIV outreach program at the Rainbow Sky Alliance of Thailand.

Thai authorities have made long-standing requests to neighbouring states for the extradition of Thai political activists. Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of Thai exiles in neighbouring countries whose extradition has been sought by the Thai authorities. In recent years, at least eight Thai activists and members of the political opposition have disappeared or been killed in Laos and Viet Nam — including people who made broadcasts in exile opposing the government or monarchy. The eight activists include individuals whose extradition the Thai authorities had repeatedly requested, including on the basis that their broadcasts into Thailand from Laos were a threat to security.

Amnesty International is also concerned that neighbouring states – including the Lao and Vietnamese governments – have not exercised due diligence in investigating this pattern of abductions by unknown perpetrators of Thai nationals whose extradition to face charges of lèse majesté had been sought by the Thai authorities.

This includes Thai nationals Ittipol Sukpaen, who disappeared in June 2016; Wutthipong “Ko Tee” Kottham-makhun, who disappeared after being abducted by Thai-speaking masked men in July 2017 (whose abduction the Lao authorities confirmed they had not investigated); Surachai Danwattananusorn, who disappeared after being abducted in Vientiane in December 2018 together with Chatcharn Buppawan and Kraidej Lulert, whose corpses were found in the Mekong river in Thailand in December 2018.