Human Rights Watch Calls on Laos to Investigate Missing Thai Activist

Witnesses said 10 men abducted Ko Tee from his house in Vientiane.

Red Shirt activist Wutthipong Kachathamkhun (alias Ko Tee) acknowledges his banner and other political materials in Bangkok, March 8, 2014.

Officials in Thailand and Laos said Tuesday they had no information about a missing activist linked with the Thai pro-democracy Red Shirts, while Human Rights Watch called for a full investigation into his alleged abduction in Vientiane over the weekend.

Thai activist Wutthipong Kachathamkhun (alias Ko Tee), who was living in exile in Laos since 2014, was allegedly abducted after getting out of a car in the nation’s capital on Saturday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported witnesses said they saw 10 armed men dressed in black clothes and balaclavas assault Ko Tee, his wife and a friend as they were about to enter Ko Tee’s house in Vientiane. The assailants hit and shocked them with stun guns, tied their hands with plastic handcuffs, covered their eyes and gagged their mouths before driving off with Ko Tee.

“Wuthipong’s shocking abduction by armed men in Vientiane needs to be fully investigated; it should not be treated with silence or swept under the rug,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement Tuesday.

“The Lao government needs to move quickly to ascertain the facts and publicly report their findings, including an assessment of Wuthipong’s whereabouts and who might be responsible for this crime that was so boldly carried out in its own capital city.”

No details

On Tuesday, Thai officials maintained that they had no information on Ko Tee’s whereabouts. He is aligned with Red Shirt leaders former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, who were toppled in military coups in 2006 and 2014, respectively.

National Security Council Secretary-General Taweep Netniyom said Thai officials could not confirm whether Ko Tee was alive or still in Laos, the Bangkok Post reported.

“He might have hid somewhere and sent a rumor or anything to spread among his network that the government did this,” the newspaper quoted Taweep as saying.

“We have been trying to coordinate with Laos’s government all along in every way to arrest him. But Laos has not been able to confirm whether Ko Tee has been living in Laos,” he added.

Reports surfaced on Monday that Ko Tee’s friends had filed a missing person report at a local police station.

Police in Vientiane said they had no information on Ko Tee’s status, according to Radio Free Asia’s Laos service, a sister entity of BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Ko Tee has lived in Laos since June 2014 after he refused to obey a summons from the Thai junta for so-called attitude adjustment. Since taking power following a coup in May 2014, the regime of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha has summoned politicians and reporters who spoke out against the junta for “attitude adjustment” detention sessions.

HRW request

In addition to calling for an investigation into Ko Tee’s disappearance, HRW said the Lao government of Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, who took office in April 2016, had repeatedly failed to respond to the “country’s serious human rights problems.”

“In June 2016, Itthipol Sukpaen, an exiled Thai activist who broadcasted anti-monarchy radio programs, vanished in Vientiane. The Lao government failed to conduct a serious investigation,” HRW said in a posting on its website.

The New York-based global rights watchdog also called on Laos to permit the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to open an office in Vientiane in order to provide protection for people fleeing political persecution in Thailand and elsewhere.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.