Vanishing Thai activists nothing new

Enough is enough: Protesters holding banners and portraits of Wanchalearm outside the Embassy of Cambodia in Bangkok. — AFP

WANCHALERM Satsaksit is not the first activist living in exile in a neighbouring country to mysteriously disappear since the 2014 military coup, and he may not be the last. At least eight other Thai activists living overseas have met the same fate in recent years, some of them later turning up dead.

Wanchalerm, a 37-year-old Ubon Ratchathani native, was last seen being bundled into a vehicle by a group of men outside his apartment in Phnom Penh on June 4.

He had stepped out for a walk, according to Human Rights Watch.

His sister Sitanan told the Prachatai website that she had been on the phone with her brother when she heard him scream “Argh, I can’t breathe!” before the line was cut.

Wanchalerm fled to Cambodia after the 2014 coup, when he was summoned by the military.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) regime lodged a complaint when he failed to respond.

The authorities issued an arrest warrant for Wanchalerm in June 2018 for allegedly violating the Computer Crimes Act by running a Facebook page titled “Ku Tong Dai 100 Lan Jak Thaksin Nae Nae” (I will definitely get 100 million baht from Thaksin) from Phnom Penh.

The page was used as a platform to attack the Thai government.

The Isra news agency also reported that Wanchalerm was among 29 exiled Thai activists accused of violating the lese majeste law, or Article 112 of the Criminal Code, though Thai authorities have denied this.

In May, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Centre reported that at least 104 Thai political dissidents had sought refuge in other countries for coup-related reasons since the May 2014 military takeover.

Though the NCPO is now defunct, the political exiles are still not able to return home while the safety of especially those who live in neighbouring countries remains an issue of concern, the report read.

In July 2016, Ittipon “DJ Sunho” Sukpaen, who faced charges of violating the lese majeste law in Thailand and was hiding out in the outskirts of Vientiane from where he continued to post anti-monarchy clips on YouTube, vanished.

Wuthipong “Ko Tee” Kachathamakul, a hardcore red-shirt leader and host of an anti-monarchist radio show who faced 21 arrest warrants for a series of offences, including lese majeste, was abducted from his Vientiane home in July 2017 and has not been seen since.

Jom Petchpradab, an independent media personality, said Ko Tee’s close associates confirmed that he had been abducted on July 29, 2017, by 10 armed men.

In December 2018, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Thailand’s most outspoken political exile, disappeared along with his two close aides Chatcharn Buppawan and Kraidej Luelert from their base in a remote part of Laos. The three had been running an anti-junta radio show called “Thailand Revolution”.

Chatcharn and Kraidej’s bodies were later found on the Thai side of the Mekong River. They had been disembowelled and their bodies stuffed with concrete. Surachai’s whereabouts remain unknown.

None of these cases has been resolved. The government and military deny any role in the disappearances. — Thai PBS World

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