UPDATED at 12:02 P.M. on 2017-08-01
Thai officials on Monday publicly refuted reports that agents had abducted a hardcore activist linked to the pro-democracy Red Shirts who has lived in self-imposed exile in neighboring Laos for the past three years.
Wutthipong Kachathamkhun (alias Ko Tee) apparently was abducted while he, his wife and a friend were getting out of a car at a residence in Laos, according to Chupong Teetuan, a supporter of the Red Shirts and an anti-monarchist who lives in the United States.
“He was abducted Saturday night. His friend, Padet, and his wife were tied and left in a house,” Chupong said in a YouTube video posted on Sunday. “My Laotian source said the kidnappers were definitely not Laotian officials,” he said, adding that Ko Tee’s wife and friend were able to free themselves.
Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Chalermchai Sitthisart rebuked the claims and denied knowledge of any abduction.
“As far as I talked to the Supreme Commander and the secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC), we do not have any knowledge on the issue. It is not our responsibility to trace how the claim happened,” he told reporters in Bangkok.
NSC Secretary-General Taweep Netniyom had been assigned to deal with Laotian authorities and to shut down an underground online radio run by Ko Tee. He also sought to reach an agreement with Laos officials to have Ko Tee extradited to face trial in Thailand.
Jom Petchpradab, a former Thai journalist who lives in exile in the U.S., said friends of Ko Tee had filed a missing person’s report at a local police station.
“Nobody knows where Ko Tee is now, or if he is still alive. But according to the informants, he is more likely alive and could have been transferred to Thailand,” he said.
Jom posted pictures of clothes and straps allegedly used by the perpetrators to tie up Ko Tee’s companions.
In Vientiane, a Laotian foreign ministry official and a police officer told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, via telephone they had no information about Ko Tee or his whereabouts.
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Human Rights watched called on the Lao government to find Ko Tee and prosecute the abductors.
“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,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”
Ko Tee was linked to hardcore efforts tied to the Red Shirt movement, whose official name is the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. He aligned with Red Shirt leaders prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, who were toppled in military coups in 2006 and 2014, respectively.
He allegedly plotted online to assassinate Thai leaders and authorities seized a cache of weapons at his home in Pathum Thani province, on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Ko Tee has lived in self-imposed exile in neighboring Laos since June 2014 after he refused a summons from the Thai junta for so-called attitude adjustment. Since taking power following the 2014 coup, the regime of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha has summoned politicians and reporters for “attitude adjustment” sessions while in detention, after they spoke out against the junta.
The abduction claim broke out over the weekend as Red Shirt members warned the government of possible rioting on Aug. 25, the day Yingluck is to hear the verdict in her trial on negligence charges stemming from a rice-subsidy scheme implemented by her government. She is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday to make her final statement in the case against her.
Yingluck could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of failing to stop corruption related to the rice scheme, as well as pay a fine of $1 billion. Thai authorities have frozen some of her 12 bank accounts along with other assets of the nation’s first female prime minister, whose net worth is valued at U.S. $17 million (566 million baht).
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.