Enforced disappearances remembered at Government House

Friends and families of the victims of enforced disappearance gathered at Government House to express sorrow for their loss and submit demands to the authorities ahead of the 2nd anniversary of the disappearance of Siam Theerawut, an activist in self-exile who mysteriously disappeared after reportedly being extradited from Vietnam in 2019.

Kanya Theerawut wiping her tears at Siam's commemoration event (Photo courtesy of Chana la).

According to Matichon, Siam’s father, mother and other relatives, along with Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, a recently-bailed activist from the 24 June Democracy Movement, Patchanee Khamnak, a labour activist, activists from Ramkhamhaeng for Democracy and Nattapong Phukaew, a singer from the Commoner Band, went to Government House on the morning of 7 May.

Sitanun Satsaksit, sister of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, another activist who went missing on 4 June 2020 while living in self-exile in Cambodia, came to join the commemoration.

Kanya Theerawut, Siam’s mother, said that over the past 2 years, the family have tried many ways to find out Siam’s fate. The family submitted petitions asking for help from the relevant Thai authorities like the police and National Human Rights Commission, and the diplomatic representatives of Vietnam, the United Nations and the European Union, but made no progress.

The family still dreamt of having Siam back with them.

“I ask those who have power, please help us. Please help find our son Siam. Please do, because over the past 2 years the issue has faded away. There is nothing in Thai news, or in any other country's news. I’ve been searching for news about my son for 2 years. I call on you to please help”, said Kanya.

At 10.50, Somyot submitted a letter to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Government House post box. The letter underlined that there have been 9 cases of enforced disappearance of activists in exile since the coup in 2014 led by Gen Prayut. The government had ignored the pursuit of the truth over what had happened to them. This may lead to an understanding that Thai government is connected to the incidents.

The letter has 2 demands: 1) the government must look into the disappearance cases and reveal the truth of what happened; 2) the government must pass the Torture and Enforced Disappearance Prevention Act in accordance with the provisions proposed by civil society in order to criminalize future enforced disappearance.

Somyot said the law, if passed as demanded, would make the state responsible for investigating enforced disappearance cases. The state will have to look into the actions of state agencies that are usually not revealed to the public, which will increase transparency over the state’s involvement in disappearance cases.

Sitanun, who has submitted a petition to every possible agency in Thailand and Cambodia in her pursuit of her brother, said the latest submission to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has still yielded no progress. 

Siam Theerawut

Siam fled the country after the 2014 military coup when all Section 112-related cases were revived. He went missing in May 2019, after he was reportedly arrested in Vietnam and extradited to Thailand along with 2 other Thai activists in exile, Chucheep “Uncle Sanam Luang” Chiwasut and Kritsana Tubthai. They have not been heard from since. His family and friends have filed petitions with various agencies calling for investigations into his disappearance, but no progress has so far been made.

Who is Siam Theerawut? From exile to Vietnam to whereabouts unknown

Before fleeing the country, Siam took part in “The Wolf Bride”, a period comedy that provoked some groups of people to file a lawsuit under Section 112 (the lèse majesté law) in 2013. Others involved in staging the play, Pornthip Munkong and Patiwat Saraiyaem, were arrested and spent two years in prison. Siam was also accused in 2018 of being a leading member of the Thai Federation.

Thailand ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) in 2017 and signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED) in 2012 but has never proceeded to ratification. 

The country is expected by the ICCPED to pass a law in accordance with the international agreements that it has signed. However, the legislative progress of the law against torture and enforced disappearance has been extremely slow. The first draft can be dated back to 2014. This has since been repeatedly rejected and revised. As of 2021, the government version of the law is awaiting parliamentary debate. 

There are several drafts, including one from civil society which directly criminalizes torture and enforced disappearance, bans the state from using torture and kidnapping and punishes perpetrators, including those who give the orders.

Timeline of disappearances

  • 5 December 2018. The Thai Federation group invites their followers to wear black shirts with the group’s symbol in Bangkok and other provinces. Many were later prosecuted.
  • 7 December 2018. Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan welcomes the Lao Minister of Defence, General Chansamone Chanyalath and discusses the issue of Thai political exiles in Lao. Chansamone admits that there is a movement on the Lao side but it has few people. The Thai Federation group operates through radio programmes. The Ministry of National Defence will deal with it, but the movement was nothing to worry about since they could do nothing.
  • 12 December 2018. In Lao, Surachai Danwattananusorn (Sae Dan), another famous self-exiled political activist, goes missing along with 2 other activists, Kraidet Leulerd, or Kasalong, and Chatchan Bupphawan, or Phuchana. Thai exiles knew that they would have to lay low whenever the Thai and Lao authorities talk about cooperation. But Surachai did not.
  • 13 December 2018. Thai PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha visits the Lao President in Vientiane.
  • 26-29 December 2018. 2 bodies are washed ashore on the Mekhong River. DNA tests identify them as Kraidet and Chatchan. The internal organs had been removed and replaced with cement and the faces were mutilated. Surachai’s whereabouts remain unknown until now.
  • 8 May 2019. The Thai Alliance for Human Rights (TAHR) based in the United States reports that Siam, Chucheep and Kritsana were arrested some time earlier and deported from Vietnam .
  • 9 May 2019 Siam’s relatives file a missing person report. The Crime Suppression Division does not accept the report as there is no arrest report. 
  • 10 May 2019. Siam’s relatives file a request with the Crime Suppression Division Commander to be informed about Siam’s arrest. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issue statements calling on the Thai authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Siam, Chucheep and Kritsana.
  • 13 May 2019. Siam’s family and friends go to the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand to call on the Vietnamese authorities to address the disappearance. They also file petitions with the National Human Rights Commission and the European Union.
  • 14 May 2019. Siam’s family and friends go to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Bangkok to give information regarding Siam. They also urge the OHCHR to help find him.
  • 16 July 2019. Siam’s sister says that the Thai Embassy in Hanoi has asked the Vietnamese authorities about the entry of Siam and his colleagues into Vietnam. However, the authorities did not have any information.
  • 8 August 2019. Thai political activists in Europe gather at the Thai Embassy in Paris holding photos of 10 Thai activists who had either gone missing or been killed since 2016.
  • 12 September 2019. Siam’s mother says at the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (APF) that the Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) told her not to take her son’s case to the UN as it could damage the country’s image.
  • 10 October 2019. Pranee Danwattananusorn, Surachai’s wife, files a petition with the Royal Thai Police Commissioner General to investigate the disappearance of Surachai and other activists.
  • 12 March 2020. Siam’s portrait is exhibited at a public forum to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Mr. Somchai Neelapaijit and others at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre .
Source: 
https://prachatai.com/journal/2021/05/92919

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