Gov’t Told UN: We Have No Leads on Thai Dissident’s Abduction

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Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a Thai pro-democracy activist, in a screenshot from a video posted to his Facebook page on June 3, 2020, the day before he was abducted in Phnom Penh.

Cambodian authorities told the U.N. that the visa of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a missing Thai dissident living in exile in Phnom Penh, had expired almost three years ago when questioned about his alleged abduction from outside his apartment by armed men in June.

“Since then, no subsequent request has been made for further renewal of his temporary stay in Cambodia,” the country’s permanent mission to the U.N. said in a letter. “Aside from reports of media outlets, concerned authorities of Cambodia have neither knowledge nor any lead on the alleged abduction of Mr. Wanchalearm.”

The letter, dated June 19, was released by the U.N. on Friday alongside its own letter from June 12 sent to the government expressing deep concern over the alleged abduction and enforced disappearance, and seeking further information.

Wanchalearm, 37, went missing in June, with New York-based Human Rights Watch reporting that witnesses saw him being taken away by a group of armed men in a car.

According to the U.N.’s letter, Wanchalearm had posted a video clip on Facebook criticizing Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on June 3.

The following day, around 4:45 p.m., Wanchalearm had been allegedly abducted from Chroy Changvar district by four unidentified people, and taken away in a dark-blue Toyota Highlander, it said.

“There is CCTV footage of the incident in public domain,” noted the letter, signed by four U.N. human rights rapporteurs.

“There are serious concerns for the safety of Mr. Satsaksit and for the safety of other Thai political activists living in Cambodia,” it said. “We are also seriously concerned by the initial statements from some Cambodian police authorities dismissing the allegation before proper investigation.”

Wanchalearm, an activist affiliated with the pro-democracy United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, known as the “Red Shirt” movement, fled to Cambodia after the May 2014 military coup in Thailand that saw Prayut come to power.

Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant for Wanchalearm in June 2018 saying he had violated the Computer-Related Crime Act by running a Facebook page from Phnom Penh that was critical of the Thai government, according to Human Rights Watch.

The government’s response to the U.N. made only two points: the first that Wanchalearm’s last entry into Cambodia was October 19, 2015, and his visa was valid only until December 31, 2017; and the second that authorities had no leads but were conducting further investigations.

National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun on Friday repeated statements he made to VOD in late June that authorities were still investigating the case.

Police had checked Wanchalearm’s reported Phnom Penh residence and video footage of the alleged abduction, but officers found that there was no record of him living there, and the vehicle’s license plate number was not registered, Kim Khoeun said.

Witnesses had not come forward to share information with authorities, he added, appealing to the public, any witnesses and Wanchalearm’s family to cooperate.

A relative of Wanchalearm filed a complaint with Cambodian police about 10 days ago, but had not come to meet with police yet, Kim Khoeun said.

Sitanan Satsaksit, Wanchalearm’s older sister, told VOD in June that she had been on the phone with her brother when he was grabbed outside Chroy Changvar district’s Mekong Gardens condominium complex.

Before his disappearance, at least eight other exiled Thai dissidents had disappeared from Laos and Vietnam, but Wanchalearm was the first reported missing in Cambodia.

“I judged Cambodia as a safe country for Wanchalearm, as I thought Cambodian people are friendly and helpful to my brother throughout the time he stayed in Cambodia for many years,” Sitanan said at the time.

Kim Khoeun expressed disbelief that Wanchalearm had even disappeared from inside the country.

“We don’t 100 percent believe that this case happened in Cambodia,” he said. “It seems like a search for a needle in the sea.”

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak could not be reached Friday morning.

A researcher for Human Rights Watch previously said that there were dozens of Thai exiles living in Cambodia, and their survival was “at the mercy of the ruling party, [the] CPP, based on personal connections.”

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