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Probe into missing Thai disappearance

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
Wanchalearm Satsaksit was allegedly abducted outside his rental apartment in the capital. Facebook

The Interior Ministry has launched an investigation into the disappearance of a Thai activist who was allegedly abducted outside his rental apartment in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district on Thursday.

The investigation is being carried out following an official request by the Royal Thai Embassy to Cambodia.

Wanchalearm Satsakit, 37, a Red Shirt activist who is wanted in Thailand fled the country to live in exile in Cambodia.

He is wanted by Thai authorities for allegedly violating the country’s Computer Crime Act in 2018.

According to Thai media reports, he was also wanted for not appearing before the National Council for Peace and Order which summoned him after a military coup took place in 2014. When he did not show up, an arrest warrant was issued against him by the military court.

His disappearance had drawn international media attention and his family and human rights organisations have asked both the Cambodian and Thai authorities to open an investigation into the alleged abduction.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Koung, said yesterday that the ministry on Monday received a diplomatic note, dated on Friday, from the Royal Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh which requested Cambodian authorities to probe the disappearance.

“The Thai embassy said they received information from Thai media reports over the alleged abduction of Mr Wanchalearm in Phnom Penh,” he said. “They requested Cambodian authorities to verify whether the information is true.”

“We have already send their request to relevant ministries, especially the Ministry of Interior, to verify the case,” Mr Koung added.

He said on that Monday two small groups of people gathered in front of the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok in the morning and the afternoon, demanding information over the disappearance of the Thai activist.

Mr Koung said Cambodian embassy officials also accepted a petition from the Thai protesters.

“They requested the Cambodian government to find out whether the information [of his disappearance] was true and where is he had been taken?” he said.

National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Chhay Kim Khoeun yesterday confirmed that Cambodian authorities have launched an investigation into the case but refused to provide further information.

He denied claims that Cambodian police arrested Mr Wanchalearm in Phnom Penh.

However, Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said yesterday that primary research conducted by Cambodian authorities found that Mr Wanchalearm has regularly travelled in and out of Cambodia in the past.

“We have checked the passenger travel system and found Mr Wanchalearm has visited our country several times since 2014 before requesting for a resident visa in 2015, which we also granted,” he said.

Gen Sopheak said Mr Wanchalearm’s visa expired on December 31, 2017.

“But since the end of 2017, he has not shown up to renew the visa and we do not know where he is,” he said. “If he has remained here, it means he is illegally living in our country… and if we find him we could deport as well as fine him.”

Gen Sopheak said the authority will review the CCTV footage during the probe into the alleged abduction, adding that Cambodian police welcomes any new evidence to help in the investigation.

Gen Sopheak said Cambodia has never received any request from Thailand to arrest or extradite Mr Wanchalearm.

According to Human Rights Watch, which cited several witnesses and apartment security cameras, has said Mr Wanchalearm was abducted at about 5:54 pm on Thursday as he walked on the street to buy food in front of his apartment. It said he was taken away in a black car.

“Mr Wanchalearm’s colleague, who was talking on the telephone with him when the abduction occurred, heard him scream, ‘Argh, I can’t breathe,’ before the call was cut off.” the statement, issued last week, said.

Protesters hold banners and portraits of allegedly kidnapped Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit outside the Embassy of Cambodia in Bangkok on June 8, 2020. AFP

It said Mr Wanchalearm was a prominent pro-democracy activist affiliated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, known as the “Red Shirts.”

He fled to the Kingdom after the May 2014 military coup in Thailand and frequently posted comments critical of the Thai government on social media.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said via an email yesterday that for an urgent abduction case with CCTV footage and lots of witnesses, the Thai government certainly dragged its feet in filing an investigation request.

“But now the investigation has finally started, the Cambodian government must pursue a serious, impartial and transparent investigation that leaves no stone unturned in finding out what happened to Wanchalearm.”

Robertson noted that they should not rest until they find him and prosecute those responsible for the abduction.

“Governments in North America, Europe and around the world who are concerned about enforced abductions should instruct their embassies in both Phnom Penh and Bangkok to demand both the Cambodian and Thai governments to act quickly to find Wanchalearm.” he added.

Bangkok Post has reported that Thai police have denied any knowledge of Mr Wanchalearm’s whereabouts and the Thai foreign ministry said they had asked their embassy in Phnom Penh to get more information on the case.

Mr Wanchalearm’s sister Sitanan Satsaksit on Monday called on the Thai government and international agencies to help find him. She claimed her brother was a victim of forced disappearance.

“It has been more than 65 hours since he disappeared, and his fate remains unknown,” Bangkok Post quoted Ms Sitanan as saying.

“We don’t have any grudges against those who committed this crime. We pray that they will free [Mr Wanchalearm] soon. We are looking forward to his release, and we hope that this abduction will be the last case of forced disappearance,” she added.

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