Missing activist’s sister receives no answer on brother’s disappearance

Sitanun Satsaksit, sister of missing activist-in-exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit, has sent letters to three Thai government agencies asking for updates on their investigation into her brother’s enforced disappearance, but has yet to receive a reply.

Sitanun Satsaksit during a memorial event for her brother in June 2021.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reports that Sitanun sent a letter on 18 December 2021 to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) asking for an update on the investigation into her brother’s disappearance, whether DSI has accepted Wanchalearm’s case, and when they will be indicting the perpetrators.

She also sent a letter to the Office of the Attorney General asking whether they have the authority to investigate a criminal case taking place overseas and where they currently are in the process.

Another letter was sent to the Department of Consular Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, following up on where they are in the investigation and whether they have received any communication from the Cambodian authorities after Sitanun went to Cambodia in December 2020 to testify to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wanchalearm’s disappearance.

Wanchalerm is an activist and political campaigner who had lived in self-exile in Cambodia since 2014. He was reportedly abducted outside the Mekong Garden Condominium by a group of armed men on 4 June 2020. His fate and whereabouts are still unknown.

All three letters stated that Sitanun has submitted testimony and the same set of evidence confirming that Wanchalearm was living in Cambodia before he disappeared to the three agencies, which were the same evidence Sitanun submitted to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The letters said that she submitted the file to the DSI on 25 March 2021 and to the Office of the Attorney-General on 19 March 2021, and that she previously filed a request for information with the Department of Consular Affairs on 17 August 2021.

Meanwhile, TLHR said that Sitanun’s Cambodian lawyer informed her on 9 December 2021 that the Cambodian court has yet to indict anyone for Wanchalearm’s disappearance. The court also ruled that a video clip from the CCTV cameras near the scene cannot be used as evidence as it has expired, while a security personnel at Wanchalearm’s condominium who was summoned as a witness did not provide information that would lead to the identification of a perpetrator.

Nevertheless, the judge responsible for Wanchalearm’s case in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court insisted that the court’s investigation into Wanchalearm’s disappearance is still ongoing and that it is currently investigating the vehicle suspected to have been used in his abduction.

Participants in the 4 June 2021 memorial event light candles for victims of enforced disappearance

While there is no progress in the investigation into Wanchalearn’s disappearance and no reply from the Thai authorities, Sitanun and other activists campaigning for justice for Wanchalearm are facing charges for their activism. Sitanun herself was charged with violation of the Emergency Decree for giving a speech on torture and enforced disappearance at a protest on 5 September 2021 at the Asoke intersection and called for people to support the anti-torture and enforced disappearance bill.

In June 2020, 10 activists who participated in the 8 June 2020 demonstration in front of the Cambodian Embassy to call for the authorities to address Wanchalearm’s disappearance were charged with violation of the Emergency Decree. The public prosecutor ruled in June 2021 not to indict them on the grounds that they were not gathering in a closed space and were not trying to incite unrest in society, and that their activity lasted only around an hour.

Charges under the Cleanliness Act were also filed against students from the Student Union of Thailand (SUT) after they attempted to tie white ribbons at various locations around Bangkok in June 2020 to call for justice for Wanchalearm. They received a fine of 2000 baht each.

The SUT also staged a protest at the Pathumwan Skywalk, near the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on 5 June 2020 to call for justice for Wanchalearm as well as other victims of enforced disappearance. Student activists Parit Chiwarak, Jutatip Sirikhan, and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul were charged with violation of the Emergency Decree. The public prosecutor decided in June 2021 to indict them on the charge. The case is now with the Pathumwan District Court, and evidence examination hearings have been scheduled for 11 – 12 May 2022 and 1 – 2 June 2022.

Student activist Panupong Jadnok has also been indicted for a violation of the Emergency Decree for participating in the 14 June 2020 “Who Ordered the Abduction of Wanchalearm?” rally at Si Muang Park, Rayong. An evidence examination hearing has been scheduled at the Rayong Provincial Court on 21 February 2021.

Participants in a panel discussion held during a candlelight vigil for victims of enforced disappearance on 4 June 2021 have also been charged with violations of the Cleanliness Act, for obstructing traffic, and for using a sound amplifier without permission. The 6 people charged were Phattaranit Yaodam, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at Amnesty International Thailand; activist Phromsorn Weerathamjaree; Labour rights advisor Worachat Aharntarig; Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation; and activists Tantawan Tuatulanon and Thanapat Kapeng.

Phattaranit, Phromsorn, Tantawan, and Thanapat confessed and received fines of 700 baht each, while Pornpen and Worachat said they are going to fight the charges. They have to report to the public prosecutor in March 2022 to see whether they will be indicted.

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