One year after a prominent Thai dissident disappeared in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian government is still in breach of its obligation to investigate its “forced disappearance,” Amnesty International said when it called on Thailand and the United Nations Southeast Asia (ASEAN) conducted an independent investigation into the case.
Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a critic of Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and the military coup he led in 2014, was dragged into a car in broad daylight through the streets of the Cambodian capital on June 4 last year and nothing is known.
“This negligent investigation is stalled. Last year was marked by foot drag, finger pointing and the absence of any credible effort to examine what really happened with Wanchalearm, ”said Ming Yu Hah, regional deputy director of campaigns, on Friday. of Amnesty International.
“The persistent failure of the Cambodian authorities to adequately investigate the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm is in clear violation of Cambodia’s international human rights obligations.”
At the same time, Amnesty also raised concerns about Thailand’s apparent determination go look for political activists and critics already living in exile.
The rights watchdog group said Wanchalearm’s disappearance was “a deeply alarming pattern of kidnappings and killings” since June 2016 of at least nine Thai activists living beyond its borders in neighboring countries such as Laos and Vietnam.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also condemned the kidnapping and delay in the investigation, saying the “failure of the Cambodian and Thai government” to locate Wanchalearm is blatant. “
“Authorities in both countries seem to be deliberately walking their investigation slowly despite the kidnapping that took place in broad daylight in front of several witnesses. This farce raises concerns about its own role in the disappearance of Wanchalearm,” Brad Adams said. , Asian director of HRW, in a statement Friday.
Cambodian and Thai authorities have said they are investigating the case.
Trapped in the video
Images from security cameras published in the media after the kidnapping of the 37-year-old Wanchalearm then show a blue Toyota Highlander leaving the scene outside his Phnom Penh apartment, where he was last seen.
The images also show two men who appear to have witnessed the kidnapping.
Wanchalearm’s sister, Sitanun, was quoted as saying to the media that she was talking on the phone with him and heard him shout, “I can’t breathe” repeatedly before cutting the call.
Witnesses also told reporters that while the assailants attacked Wanchalearm, he repeatedly shouted, “Please help!” a Khmer.
Prior to the incident, unidentified men with crew-cut hairstyles were reported to have been in the shadow of the self-exiled activist, who is affiliated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, known as the “red shirts.” .
This month a year ago Thai government critic Wanchalearm “Tar” Satsaksit disappeared after his apparent kidnapping in Cambodia on June 4, 2020, the family was distressed but authorities were silent.https://t.co/EoeCxURqv6 pic.twitter.com/FWJM6totZm
– Thai PBS World (@ThaiPBSWorld) June 2, 2021
Wanchalearm fled Thailand in 2014 shortly after the coup that installed Prayuth as the country’s military leader. Prayuth was later elected prime minister in a delayed election that critics said were rigged.
Thorn next to Prayuth
Even in self-exile, Wanchalearm remained politically active, often using social media to criticize Thai authorities. A day before he disappeared, Wanchalearm had posted a video clip on Facebook criticizing the prime minister.
Thai authorities had filed criminal charges against him prior to his disappearance.
In 2018, they filed charges against the activist under the Computer Crime Act, alleging that he had posted anti-government material on a satirical Facebook page.
At the time, the Thai authorities had also requested the extradition of Wanchalearm from Cambodia, although Phnom Penh has not publicly acknowledged having received any such request.
Wanchalearm was also among a large number of activists and political figures who received a summons after the coup in May 2014, and Thai authorities filed charges against him for failing to report to police.
A criminal investigation into the disappearance of Wanchalearm has been formally underway in Cambodia since September 2020, but there has been little progress in the case.
Amnesty says it is “deeply concerned” that the Cambodian authorities are “in breach of their obligation” to conduct a “prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigation” into the case.
Sitanun gave statements to a Phnom Penh court in December 2020 about the disappearance of his brother, but since then authorities have not reported any new investigative action.
“The inadequate response of the Cambodian authorities and the lack of diligence required to react to the new evidence provided by Wanchalearm’s sister reinforce fundamental concerns about the credibility of the investigation,” Amnesty said.
Cambodian police told the AFP news agency they were investigating, but also questioned whether Wanchalearm was abducted.
“So far we have no new information. We are doing everything we can to gather clues to confirm whether or not this case happened in Cambodia, ”said Chhay Kim Khoeun, a spokesman for the Cambodian National Police.
Thai authorities say they are also investigating, but it is up to Cambodia to lead the investigation.
In light of the “clear failures” of the Cambodian investigation, Amnesty has urged the Thai Attorney General to “immediately initiate” a formal investigation in coordination with the country’s human rights commission “to further safeguard independence and credibility.” of the process.
Amnesty also reiterated its calls on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to intervene, not only in the case of Wanchalearm, but in other Thai exiles killed or abducted in recent years.
ASEAN, a regional grouping of 10 countries, has a policy of non-interference.
“The silence of ASEAN and the AICHR in the face of cross-border forced disappearances in the region is shameful,” Amnesty said. “This is the absolute worst regional cooperation. Unbridled impunity, injustice and human rights violations are facilitated by the inaction of the regional body. “
Amnesty has previously expressed concern about the security of Thai exiles in neighboring countries whose extradition has been called for by the Thai authorities.
In each case, Amnesty said Thai authorities had requested the arrest or extradition of people in connection with the criminal charges filed in connection with the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, often online and in some cases in exile.
A group of human rights organizations in Cambodia and Thailand also issued a separate statement on Friday calling on the authorities of both countries to “identify those responsible in order to bring them to justice” and to guarantee family law. Wanchalearm to get repair.
The declaration was signed by the International Federation for Human Rights, the
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, Thai Human Rights Lawyers and several other rights groups.