International community calls for investigation into Wanchalearm’s disappearance

In addition to pressure from Thai civil society, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Socialist Party of Malaysia have called on the Thai and Cambodian authorities to immediately address and investigate the abduction of Wanchalearm Satsaksit in Phnom Penh.

People lay roses in front of Wanchalearm's photo at a public protest on his disappearance

The disappearance of the self-exiled Thai pro-democracy activist led to social uproar against the as yet unknown perpetrators.

On 8 June, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a statement recommending that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other related state bodies search for the truth and evidence. It also called on the Thai government to consider enacting a law against torture and enforced disappearance to ensure people’s rights in line with the Thai constitution.

“Previously, the NHRC recommended that the government enact a law against torture and enforced disappearance in accordance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) to which Thailand is a party and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) which Thailand has accepted in principle.”, said What Tingsamitr, the NHCR chair.

On 7 June, the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) published a statement demanding that the Cambodian government immediately launch an investigation into the abduction. It also called on the Thai government to stop its harassment and repression of pro-democracy activists.

“There were at least eight Thai political exiles [who] were abducted in Laos in 2016-18, and the bodies of several disappeared Thai dissidents were later found in [the] Mekong River. Those disappearances have raised suspicions that they had been kidnapped by [a] Thai military-linked death squad.

“The abduction of Wanchalearm Satsaksit is also raising the same suspicion of the involvement of [the] Thai military. If such suspicion is proven correct, then it is clearly a breach of international laws and should be considered as illegal intrusion by the Thai military into the territory of other sovereign nations,, the statement says.

On 5 June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) called for the Cambodian and Thai authorities to urgently investigate the abduction.

“The Cambodian government is obligated to find out what happened to Wanchalearm, who was taken away at gunpoint in Phnom Penh, and ensure he is safe,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia Director. “Foreign governments and donors should press the Cambodian government to take all necessary measures to find Wanchalearm or risk being complicit in his abduction.”

“Until more information comes to light, it’s critical that Cambodia treat this shocking case with the utmost urgency. If he is located, he must not be returned to Thailand where he likely faces persecution,” said David Griffiths, AI Director in the Office of the Secretary-General.  “If Wanchalearm is being detained, authorities should confirm whether he is in military or police custody. If he is in state custody, we urge authorities to ensure that he is held in an official place of detention and has immediate access to independent lawyers, doctors and family members.”

As of 8 June, there is still no information of Wanchalearm’s whereabouts. Cambodian National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun told the Khmer Times that the police did not know anything so are unable to investigate.

Thai netizens are massively interested in Wanchalearm’s disappearance. #Saveวันเฉลิม (#SaveWanchalearm) became twitter’s top trend on 4 June.

Wanchalearm is a critic of Thai politics. He was accused of setting up the Facebook page ‘Ku Tong Dai 100 Lan Chak Thaksin Nae Nae’ (I must get 100 million baht from Thaksin for sure), a political satire page which has been criticizing the junta since 2014, and was among those prosecuted for refusing a junta summons following the 2014 military coup.

According to HRW, since the May 2014 coup, the Thai authorities have aggressively pursued the apprehension of pro-democracy activists who took refuge in neighbouring countries. The Thai government has repeatedly demanded that Lao, Vietnam, and Cambodia hand over exiled Thai activists. At least eight of them have become victims of enforced disappearance.