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Exiled Thai dissident kidnapped in broad daylight in Phnom Penh

Jack Burton

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PHOTO: Straits Times

In the latest in a string of mysterious disappearances of Southeast Asian dissidents living in exile, gunmen kidnapped a Thai political activist in Cambodia, rights advocates announced today. 37 year old Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who fled Thailand after 2014’s military coup amid accusations he broke the country’s strict lèse-majesté law, was abducted at gunpoint and bundled into a car as he walked in front of his apartment in the capital, Phnom Penh, on Thursday, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. With his final words “I can’t breathe!” Satsaksit was manhandled into an unmarked vehicle and driven away, according to a friend. It’s been 24 hours since the disappearance and no one knows where he is.

“The abduction of a prominent Thai political activist on the streets of Phnom Penh demands an immediate response from Cambodian authorities,” according Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. A police spokesman told reporters authorities had not detained or arrested the Satsaksit and there was not enough information for police to open an investigation.

Satsaksit continued his political activism in exile and Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant for him in 2018 for violating the Computer Crime Act by operating a Facebook page critical of the military government. On Wednesday, he criticised PM Prayut Chan-o-cha online.

According to a 2015 Thai media report citing a security source, Wanchalearm was among 29 exiled activists accused of violating the lèse-majesté law that makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the monarchy.

At least 8 Thai activists who fled after the 2014 coup and took refuge in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have disappeared, friends and rights groups say, and some have been found dead.

The hashtag #SaveWanchalearm is trending on Thai Twitter today, with more than 400,000 re tweets and some activists reportedly plan a demonstration later in the day.

Human rights groups have accused governments in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, of helping each other to forcibly return several dissidents and asylum seekers in recent years.

Thai police have denied all knowledge and responsibility for the abduction. Reached by phone, police spokesman Kissana Phattanacharoen had this to say:

“Cambodia is not Thailand. You must ask the relevant country.”

SOURCES: Bangkok Post | Khaosod English

 

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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