Cambodian authorities should urgently investigate the abduction of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a prominent Thai pro-democracy activist living in exile in Phnom Penh, and publicly reveal their findings, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch expressed deep concern for Wanchalearm’s safety.
“The abduction of a prominent Thai political activist on the streets of Phnom Penh demands an immediate response from Cambodian authorities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Cambodian government should urgently act to locate Wanchalearm and ensure his safety.”
At about 5:54 p.m. on June 4, 2020, a group of armed men abducted Wanchalearm as he walked on the street to buy food in front of his apartment, and took him away in a black car, according to several witnesses and apartment security cameras. Wanchalearm’s colleague, who was talking on the telephone with him when the abduction occurred, heard him scream, “Argh, I can’t breathe,” before the call was cut off.
Neither the Cambodian nor Thai government authorities have responded to media inquiries about Wanchalearm’s abduction.
Wanchalearm is a prominent pro-democracy activist affiliated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts.” He fled to Cambodia after the May 2014 military coup in Thailand. He continues to be politically active in exile, frequently making comments critical of the Thai government on social media. Wanchalearm posted his most recent video clip on Facebook on June 3, criticizing Thailand’s Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.
In June 2018, Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant for Wanchalearm based on allegations he violated the Computer-Related Crime Act by operating a Facebook page Ku Tong Dai 100 Lan Jak Thaksin Nae Nae (I will surely get 100 million baht from Thaksin) critical of the Thai government from Phnom Penh. At that time, senior Thai police officers vowed to bring Wanchalearm back to Thailand one way or another.
Since the May 2014 coup, Thai authorities have aggressively pursued the apprehension of pro-democracy activists who took refuge in neighboring countries. The Thai government has repeatedly demanded that Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia hand over those exiled Thai activists. At least eight of them have become victims of enforced disappearance.
Over the past six years, Cambodia and Thailand have closely collaborated to harass, arbitrarily arrest, and forcibly return exiled dissidents in violation of international law. This collaboration has included people formally registered as persons of concern by the United Nations refugee agency. Wanchalearm previously told Human Rights Watch he had occasionally been put under surveillance by Thai officials in Cambodia.
“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,” Adams said. “Foreign governments and donors should press the Cambodian government to take all necessary measures to find Wanchalearm or risk being complicit in his abduction.”