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No evidence found three months into abduction investigation

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

The Cambodian government this week revealed the preliminary findings of the first three months of its investigation into the alleged abduction of Thai political activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit in Phnom Penh.

The investigation was launched in response to international pressure from human rights groups who claim that the disappearance of the activist happened under suspicious circumstances.

Thai national Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, is wanted by Thai authorities for allegedly violating the country’s Computer Crime Act in 2018.

He was reportedly abducted by a group of armed men in front of his apartment in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district on June 4 this year, with the case still remaining unsolved.

In its report, the Ministry of Interior said based on the immigration documents, Wanchalearm had last entered the Kingdom at the Phnom Penh International Airport on October 15, 2015 and obtained a temporary residency visa valid until December 31, 2017.

The report noted that the ministry had carried out an investigation at the location where the alleged abduction took place. It also added that the ministry had followed up a number of leads concerning the activist’s whereabouts.

“Wanchalearm was not found at any of the properties we searched,” the report said.

“We also surveyed security cameras in the area where the alleged abduction took place, but no evidence was found, “it added.

According to a report by the Human Rights Watch, which cited several witnesses and apartment security cameras as evidence, Wanchalearm was abducted at about 5:54pm on June 4. As he walked on the street to buy food in front of his apartment, he was bundled into a black car, the organisation claim.

However, the Ministry of Interior report which responded to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that authorities cooperated with the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to define the identity of the vehicle, but the registration plate could not be identified.

It also said: “Based on the testimony of three witnesses (living around the location of the alleged incident), they confirmed that there were no reports of abduction in the said area,” it added.

In a joint letter published yesterday, five UN human rights experts, including Luciano Hazan, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Rhona Smith, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia and Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, expressed a continuing concern over the alleged abduction of Wanchalearm.

“We welcome the information that an investigation is being conducted but are concerned that, more than one month on, no information is available on the progress of the investigation or the identity of the perpetrators and that the fate and whereabouts of Wanchalearm remains unknown,” the letter said.

It said Cambodia should take all necessary measures to search for, locate and protect Wanchalearm.

According to a letter from a UN human rights expert, on July 7, persons associated with Wanchalearm – through their lawyer in Cambodia – officially filed the case with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

However, on July 8, they were informed that the case had also been transferred by the Cambodian Attorney General to Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice.

Thai media The Nation reported last month that Wanchalearm’s family and Amnesty International representatives on August 11 visited the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok to seek information about his disappearance.

However, the Cambodian Embassy dismissed the request to meet with Cambodian ambassador Ouk Sorphorn as well as a petition signed by more than 5,000 people demanding action on the case.

National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Chhay Kim Khoeun told Khmer Times yesterday that the investigation on the alleged abduction of Wanchalearm is ongoing.

Wanchalearm disappearance has drawn international media attention and his family, human rights organisations and political activists have asked both the Cambodian and Thai authorities to open an investigation into the alleged abduction.

“Until now, we still cannot find the person in question,” he said. “However, efforts are ongoing.”

On June 10, Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai also responded to a question raised in Parliament on the Wanchalearm case, indicating that the Thai citizen did not have political refugee status, therefore Thailand would have to wait for Cambodia to finish its investigation.

Meanwhile, Cambodian authorities have said they will continue to gather information on the case in cooperation with Thai authorities.

“The authorities at the Ministry of Interior suggest that all relevant parties in the country and abroad, especially witnesses to this incident, offer further cooperation and specific information and evidence to assist the Cambodian authorities in carrying out their investigations. We also suggest that anyone giving evidence refrains from making any inaccurate claims which may affect the investigation process,” the Ministry said in the report.

Sitanan Satsaksit, Wanchalearm’s older sister, told The Nation that her family is still waiting for answers from both Thai and Cambodian authorities about Wanchalearm’s whereabouts.

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

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

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

 

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