Justice for Wanchalearm: CSOs, students, public call for authorities to address activist’s disappearance

The disappearance of Thai activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit has sparked a wave of NGOs, activists, and members of the public both online and offline who are calling for justice. Netizens are using the #savewanchalearm (#saveวันเฉลิม) to show their support, while at least three demonstrations have been staged in his name since Friday.

Protestors placing flowers in front of a photo of Wanchalearm at the Pathumwan Skywalk demonstration on Friday (5 June)

On Friday evening (5 June,) the Student Union of Thailand (SUT) staged a demonstration at the Pathumwan Skywalk, near the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), calling for justice for Wanchalearm as well as other victims of enforced disappearance. During the demonstration, Jutatip Sirikhan, President of the SUT, read out the names of over 80 victims of enforced disappearance, including Tiang Sirikhan, Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, Siam Theerawut, and Surachai Danwattananusorn. Participants were seen kneeling while holding pictures of those who disappeared, and holding signs, including one which said “a person should not die for speaking the truth.” They also placed flowers around a picture of Wanchalearm and sang Jit Phumisak’s song “Starlight of Faith.”

Protestors kneeling with pictures of missing people. At the top left is a banner with a picture of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen and at the bottom right is a banner with a picture of Wanchalearm. 

The demonstration faced interruption from the police, as an officer read out the Emergency Decree to the participants and threatened to arrest them if they did not maintain distance from each other. The participants shouted “save Wanchalearm” back.

A scarecrow with a banner containing a picture of Wanchalearm. The text above say "no one should become a victim of enforced disappearance."

On Sunday (7 June), the Democracy Restoration Group and the Popular Student Network for Democracy (PSND), set up a number of scarecrows in front of the BACC with signs relating to different social campaigns, including one which called for the government to lift the Emergency Decree and another which says “No one should become a victim of enforced disappearance” with a picture of Wanchalearm and other missing people.

Plainclothes officers speaking to the organizers

Five minutes into the event, a BACC security guard came to tell the organizers that they must request permission from the BACC before they can use the space. Around 10 plainclothes police officers then arrived at the scene to speak to the organizers, who ended the demonstration after 15 minutes.

Yesterday morning (8 June), The NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO COD) went to the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok to submit a petition signed by over 150 organizations calling for the Cambodian authorities to investigate Wanchalearm’s disappearance. However, an Embassy official said they are unable to accept the petition, so the group left it in front of the Embassy sign.

Meanwhile, in the afternoon, a group of students and members of the public gathered in front of the Embassy calling for the Cambodian authorities to address Wanchalearm’s disappearance and to find the culprits. The participants held protest signs, including some which said “I can’t breathe,” Wanchalearm’s last words before his abduction. The group also said that they will be back on 15 June to see if there has been progress.

The group of protestors in front of the Cambodian Embassy yesterday afternoon (8 June).

Missing person posters also appeared at different Bangkok locations on Sunday containing the pictures and names of various disappeared activists, and stated the cause of disappearance as “abducted by the state.” The Chulalongkorn University student group Spring Movement then later shared .pdf and .jpg files of the posters for those who wish to use them in their campaign.

The SUT have also started a campaign inviting members of the public to display a white ribbon in support of Wanchalearm and to stand against state violence. Members of the SUT also went to various Bangkok locations today (9 June) to tie white ribbonsa, including the Ministry of Defence, where they attempted to tie a white ribbon to a tree in front of the Ministry, but were stopped by a military police officer who told them that they are not allowed to do so because “it’s symbolic.” They also went to the Democracy Monument, where they were met by police officers, and at 14.30 were taken away in a police car to Samranrat Police Station.