Sister of abducted Thai activist hopes new gov't will push for probe

Wanchalearm Satsaksit was taken near his apartment in Cambodia’s capital in 2020, CCTV footage showed.
By Nontarat Phaicharoen for BenarNews
2024.06.04
Bangkok
Sister of abducted Thai activist hopes new gov't will push for probe Sitanan Satsaksit, sister of missing Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, submits a petition at Government House in Bangkok requesting an investigation into his suspected 2020 abduction in Cambodia, June 4, 2024.
(Supattra Plongklum – Thai News Pix/BenarNews)

As she marked the fourth anniversary of her brother’s abduction in Cambodia, Sitanan Satsaksit submitted yet another petition on Tuesday seeking the Thai government’s help in investigating his disappearance. 

But this time, she is petitioning a new government, led by the party her missing brother worked for, to see if it will intervene to put pressure on the Cambodian government to get answers on his case. 

The June 4, 2020, disappearance of her sibling, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, an activist from Ubon Ratchathani, was among a series of suspected cases of transnational repression that occurred when Thailand’s military was still in power. 

“We have been filing complaints for four years, and there has been no progress. The authorities have shown that they are not genuinely interested or concerned about this issue. We don’t have any hopes, but we must continue fighting,” Sitanan told BenarNews.

Wanchalearm was working for the opposition Pheu Thai party when he was abducted while speaking on the phone with Sitanan that day.

CCTV footage showed him being seized in front of his Phnom Penh apartment complex, a day after he posted a video on Facebook criticizing the Thai government. 

Wanchalearm had fled to Cambodia to avoid arrest by the then-Thai junta on potential charges under the Computer Crimes Act.

Pheu Thai heads a coalition government, which came to power last year but retains links to the military. 

Sitanan, joined by rights activists, submitted a letter at the Government Complaint Center near Government House in Bangkok and Pheu Thai Party headquarters requesting an investigation into the disappearances of Wanchalearm and other political refugees. The party took power in September 2023 with the swearing-in of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and his cabinet.

Krumanit Sangphum, a Pheu Thai Party MP and deputy chief government whip, responded to the complaint.

“The Pheu Thai Party has a long-standing position on the democratic process and human rights. We have been fighting for these issues for a long time. I think today, as the leading party in forming the government, we have been following the demands made,” Krumanit said.

“We will look for opportunities to address these problems. The Pheu Thai Party is currently holding a meeting, so we will bring this matter for discussion.”

04 TH-abduction 2.jpg
Then-Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha talks to reporters at Government House in Bangkok, March 20, 2023, after announcing he had dissolved Parliament to set the stage for a general election in May. [Sakchai Lalit/AP]

At the time of the incident, then-Lt. Gen. Krisana Pattanacharoen, who was Royal Thai police deputy spokesman, told BenarNews that Wanchalearm’s disappearance was not related to the Thai authorities. 

Since the abduction, Wanchalearm’s family and human rights activists have been calling for justice and urging government officials in Thailand and Cambodia to investigate the incident, but have seen little progress.

“The indifference and neglect of the Thai government toward Wanchalearm’s case … clearly shows that relatives or those seeking justice cannot do anything, both legally and in campaigning for the government to take political responsibility,” Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross-Cultural Foundation, a Thai NGO, told BenarNews.

“The government has ignored the situation and acted as if he was not an activist who had previously supported the party. It’s disappointing.”

Before Wanchalearm’s enforced disappearance, Thai authorities were officially pursuing him based on an arrest warrant, Pornpen said.

He noted that the activist was living in Cambodia without hiding. 

“If the government could track him, Wanchalearm would not have disappeared. The state should not ignore the disappearance of refugees abroad and should expedite the investigation to uncover the truth,” Pornpen said.

Missing Thais

At least 104 individuals had to flee the country as political refugees beginning in 2014, when the military overthrew the democratic government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. 

The group noted that nine Thai refugees living in foreign countries had disappeared through 2023, when coup leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha was still prime minister. 

Two refugees, identified as Chatcharn Buppawan and Kraidej Luelert, were found dead in the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom province, their bodies disemboweled and stuffed with concrete.

Regarding the situation faced by refugees, Piyapong Pimpaluck, as assistant professor at Chiang Mai University, called on the Thai government to restore confidence in democracy and freedom.

“The NCPO left behind many terrible legacies, especially the succession of political power, authoritarian values, and hate speech, which will create problems for Thai society for a long time,” Piyapong told BenarNews.

NCPO was the acronym for the National Council for Peace and Order, the official name for Prayuth’s junta.

“Although Thailand has returned to democracy, the tools and ideology of eliminating political enemies used by the dictatorship still exist. However, I believe that Thai people now clearly see the value of democracy and human rights,” Piyapong said, noting that people were rising up and making demands of the government.

“The government should lead the country back to the path of democracy.”

The United Nations, meanwhile, has reported that at least 77 Thai individuals were victims of enforced disappearance since 1980, including Billy, a Karen activist from Phetchaburi Province in 2014, Surachai Saedan, a Red Shirt leader in 2018, and Wanchalearm in 2020.

“Everyone in the family has trauma. We live with it, and there isn’t a single day of happiness. When we watch old clips and see our brother, when we talk to family members, the feeling of torment remains the same,” Sitanan said about Wanchalearm.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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