Thai government must disclose whereabouts of missing activists, say rights groups

After reports surfaced on Thursday (9 May) of the disappearance of three activists in exile in Vietnam, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed their concerns over the activists’ safety and called on the Thai government to disclose information about their whereabouts.

Chucheep “Uncle Sanam Luang” Chiwasut, Siam Theerawut, and Kritsana Tupthai have been living in exile since the May 2014 military coup. The Thai authorities have previously accused them of violating Article 112, and Chucheep was also accused of being a leading member of the Thai Federation movement.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Vietnamese authorities arrested the three men in early 2019 for illegal entry and using fake travel documents. On 9 May, the Thai Alliance for Human Rights (TAHR) issued a statement claiming that they had already been handed over to the Thai authorities. However, the Thai government has yet to acknowledge their arrest or detention.

There are now concerns from human rights groups that the three men have become victims of enforced disappearance. HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams called on the Thai government to disclose the whereabouts of the three men, and to permit their family members and lawyers to see them.

“Vietnam’s alleged secret forced return to Thailand of three prominent activists should set off alarm bells in the international community,” Adams said. “United Nations agencies and concerned governments should press the Thai government to immediately reveal where Chucheep and his two colleagues are being held and allow others to visit them.”

Minar Pimple, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Global Operations, also called on the Thai authorities to “acknowledge whether they are in military or police custody and establish their whereabouts.” If the three activists are indeed in state custody, Amnesty International asked that the Thai authorities “ensure that the three men are held in an official place of detention and have immediate access to independent lawyers, doctors, and family members.”  

“We also call on authorities to either charge them with a recognizable criminal offence in line with international standards or release them from custody, and not penalise them for their exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” says Pimple.