Vietnam denies having information on missing activists’ fate

Two months after the disappearance of three Thai political refugees in Vietnam, the Vietnamese authorities have denied having any information on what happened to the group.

Left: Siam Theerawut
Right: Surachai Danwattananusorn

The sister (name withheld) of Siam Theerawut, who went missing along with two other refugees, Chucheep “Uncle Sanam Luang” Chiwasut and Kritsana Tupthai, said that the Thai Embassy in Hanoi has informed them through the Director of the Protection of Thai Nationals Abroad Division that the Embassy has requested information about Siam from the relevant Vietnamese agencies. The Vietnamese authorities said that they have no information on Siam and the other two refugees’ entry into Vietnam or what happened to them.

Siam, Chucheep, and Kritsana went missing in early May 2019. They were reportedly arrested and extradited to Bangkok. Siam’s family subsequently began a search for information on his fate. Within the first two weeks after the three refugees’ alleged arrest and extradition, Siam’s mother, Kanya Theerawut, filed appeals for information with the Crime Suppression Division and the Vietnamese Embassy. She also filed a request with the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the disappearance. Her search has so far proved fruitless.

Siam’s sister also said that an official from the Ministry of Justice came to see her last Friday (12 July) to ask whether there was any additional information other than YouTube videos that could prove that Siam was in Vietnam. She informed the officer that there are conversations with her brother on the chat application Line, but she has deleted the conversations. The officer then proposed to ask his superior whether it will be possible to recover the data. Other than that, Siam’s sister said that there is no progress.

No progress has been made either in the case of Surachai Danwattananusorn, or Surachai Sae Dan, who went missing along with two of his companions, Chatchan “Phuchana” Bubphawan and Kraidet “Kasalong” Luelerd, in December 2018.

Pranee Danwattananusorn, Surachai’s wife, said that there has been no progress in the investigation into her husband’s disappearance. Pol Lt Col Suksawat Bua-in, Deputy Superintendent of Tha Uthen District Police Station, said that they are now in the process of finalizing the case to be forwarded to the Nakhon Phanom Provincial Police and to report to the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, Ministry of Justice. Pol Lt Col Suksawat said that this is not considered a criminal case but a disappearance. They have to investigate whether Surachai was the body found in Tha Uthen, or whether the Tha Uthen body is the same body found in Nakhon Phanom city.

As for Phuchana, whose mutilated body was found along with that of Kasalong in the Mekhong River in January 2019, the investigation has been suspended until new evidence can be found that can lead to the identity of the perpetrator. The investigators previously forwarded the case to the Attorney-General, but the Attorney-General sent the case back to the investigators, since there is no solid evidence that the murder took place overseas, placing it within Thai jurisdiction. The police also got no response from the Lao authorities, so there is nothing they can do but to collect evidence and witness testimony available on Thai soil.

Following the 2014 military coup, many anti-junta activists fled overseas. Prior to the disappearance of Surachai, Phuchana, and Kasalong, two other refugees also went missing: Ittipon “DJ Sunho” Sukpaen, who disappeared in 2016, and Wuttipong “Ko-Tee” Kotthammakhun, who disappeared in 2017.