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At court hearing, missing Thai activist’s sister insists he was abducted in Cambodia

Sitanun Satsaksit, the sister of a missing Thai activist, arrives at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday to present evidence to an investigating judge. Panha Chhorpoan
Sitanun Satsaksit, the sister of a missing Thai activist, arrives at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday to present evidence to an investigating judge. Panha Chhorpoan

Sitanun Satsaksit, the sister of missing Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, presented a Phnom Penh court with evidence on Tuesday to prove that her brother lived in Phnom Penh at the time of his alleged abduction, as the court investigates the six-month old disappearance.

Wanchalearm was allegedly abducted from outside his apartment in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district on June 4 and has not been seen since. His sister, Sitanun, is in Cambodia to attend a Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigation into the disappearance.

Sitanun said she presented the court with evidence and documents to support Wanchalearm’s presence in Cambodia during the time of his disappearance. The Cambodian government has claimed that he did not live at the Mekong Gardens in Chroy Changvar and that there is no proof of his presence in Cambodia after his visa expired in 2017.

“We have sufficient evidence to show the judge that Wanchalearm was here in Phnom Penh and also that the abduction happened here in Phnom Penh,” she said, after the Tuesday hearing.

Sitanun said she had been in constant contact with Wanchalearm before his disappearance and was confident of his location in June. She said judge Sin Sovannarath was looking for evidence to support the abduction claims.

“We cannot guess or cannot judge whether [the judge] will give us justice or not, but we have tried our best to present what we have to the judge,” she said. “So, it’s up to his decision whether the investigation will be continued or not.”

Sam Chamroern, Sitanun’s Cambodian lawyer, said that he will continue to collect more evidence and submit it to the investigating judge. He added that the court had filed preliminary charges for illegal use of a weapon and illegal detention or confinement against unidentified individuals.

“According to the law when the court has filed charges, the investigating judge will investigate that case,” Chamroern said.

Chamroern refused to divulge the exact pieces of evidence submitted to the court, but Sitanun said the evidence included photos and video clips taken from the spot where Wanchalearm was allegedly abducted and information from his Facebook page.

A statement by Thailand’s Cross Cultural Foundation, which works for the protection and promotion of human rights and justice, released a statement after the hearing saying Sitanun had submitted 177 pages of evidence to the court, including CCTV footage seen in the media showing security guards backing off during the alleged abduction and footage of the an SUV screeching off, allegedly with Wanchalearm in it.

Cross Cultural Foundation is supporting Sitanun’s legal case, with the statement adding that Sitanun met with a high-ranking police official, though the officer’s name was not disclosed. The official informed Sitanun that the investigation had hit a roadblock and there was no evidence to prove Wanchalearm’s abduction.

Wanchalearm fled Thailand after the 2014 coup and was living in Phnom Penh. He was an activist linked to the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or “Red Shirts,” and was publishing satirical videos about the Thai leadership, especially Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. He was charged with computer crimes in Thailand and also allegedly under the country’s strict lese-majeste law.

Investigating judge Sin Sovannrath and Phnom Penh Municipal Court Spokesperson Y Rin could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Chhay Kimkhoeun, a spokesperson for the National Police, declined to comment.

Cambodian authorities initiated an investigation in June after receiving a request from Thailand, but has since said they have no leads on the activist’s disappearance. They said an SUV, seen in CCTV footage, that was allegedly involved in the abduction had fake license plates and that Wanchalearm did not live at the condominium.

Amnesty International issued a statement on Tuesday calling on the Cambodian authorities to thoroughly investigate the case and uncover the circumstances behind Wanchalearm’s disappearance.

“The investigation has moved at a snail’s pace and key evidence appears to have been ignored. The Cambodian authorities need to show that they are undertaking a credible investigation or serious question will be asked about whether they are acting in good faith,” said Yamini Mishra, Asia-Pacific regional director for Amnesty International.

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances has asked the Cambodian government for progress on the case, with the government claiming it had not found evidence to prove that he was abducted in Cambodia and that eyewitnesses had refuted the disappearance claims.


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