Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Police to investigate disappearance of Thai activist

A view of the condominium in Phnom Penh's Chroy Changvar district where Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit lived before he was allegedly abducted on June 4. Panha Chhorpoan

Cambodian National Police will investigate the alleged abduction earlier this month of a Thai pro-democracy activist living in exile in Phnom Penh, according to authorities.

National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun on June 9 denied any knowledge of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, and said that although no Cambodian authorities had been involved in the arrest of the Thai, police would begin an investigation. 

“We will investigate and clarify that information to check whether it is true or not,” he said.

He had said last week that the National Police could not look into the case because they had no information regarding the disappearance.

Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said on June 9 that official visitor entry data showed that Wanchalearm had entered Cambodia several times before 2015, and had made requests to extend his visa through 2017.

“Since 2017, he has disappeared and we don’t know where he went, because he did not extend his visa,” Sopheak said. “If he lives in Cambodia, he is living illegally.”

Sopheak called on witnesses or anyone with information about the disappearance of Wanchalearm to cooperate with law enforcement and provide information to the authorities.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said that his ministry had received a diplomatic note from the Thai Embassy in Cambodia saying that they had seen articles published in the Thai news regarding Wanchalearm’s alleged abduction.

“The Thai Embassy requested that Cambodia help to clarify the information,” Kuoy said, adding that the Foreign Ministry will wait for an initial report from the Interior Ministry on their findings.

In a statement released June 5, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement detailing Wanchalearm’s abduction and expressing concern for his safety. It said Wanchalearm was seen being forced into a black car by a group of armed men at 5:54 p.m. on June 4. The witness accounts were corroborated by security footage from nearby buildings, HRW added.

According to the statement, the activist and Thai government critic had fled his home nation after the 2014 military coup and has continued to post material critical of the Thai government on his social media pages while living in exile in Phnom Penh.

Wanchalearm’s neighbors in Chroy Changvar district’s Chroy Changvar commune were worried after they heard of the abduction. Others said they were aware of previous incidents in which authorities had attempted to approach Wanchalearm.

A 30-year-old man who lives near the Thai activist said he had personally heard Wanchalearm yell out for help the evening he was taken.

“I heard [from others] that he was arrested and pushed into a black SUV Highlander and driven toward National Road 6,” he said. “I heard the victim’s voice yelling for help.”

A 27-year-old friend of the Thai activist who lives near his home in Mekong Gardens condo said that he had told her that uniformed officials had attempted to approach him about a year ago.

“More than a year ago, there were three men who wore black uniforms who came to find him,” she said. “He said they were caught on CCTV camera, but he did not tell me what their nationality was.” 

A security guard at Mekong Gardens said that he did not witness the alleged kidnapping last week, but that he had personally seen many officials visiting the floor of the building where  Wanchalearm’s apartment is located.

“Police officials from the commune and district levels and Interior Ministry officials came many times to his floor [of the condo],” he said.

An article in the Thai news website Prachathai News on June 8 said that Wanchalearm’s family had released a statement the day before pleading for his release.

“Please release Wanchalearm,” it said. “We will look forward to this with hope. We hope this enforced disappearance will be the last time [he is taken].”

Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of HRW, called on the Cambodian government to carry out a thorough investigation into the disappearance.

“Now the investigation has finally started, [the] Cambodia government must pursue a serious, impartial and transparent investigation that leaves no stone unturned in finding out what happened to Wanchalearm,” he said in a statement. “They should not rest until they find him and prosecute those responsible for the abduction.”

“Governments in North America, Europe and around the world who are concerned about enforced abductions should instruct their embassies in both Phnom Penh and Bangkok to demand both the Cambodian and Thai governments to act quickly to find Wanchalearm,” he added.

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