Foreign rights groups question Wanchalearm disappearance; groups with local ties stay silent

Several prominent human rights groups have raised concerns this past weekend about the kidnapping of anti-junta activist Wanchalearm Satsakit who was living in self-exile in Cambodia.

Both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have released formal statements condemning the abduction of Wanchalearm.

“The abduction of a prominent Thai political activist on the streets of Phnom Penh demands an immediate response from Cambodian authorities,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “The Cambodian government should urgently act to locate Wanchalearm and ensure his safety.”

“This would not be the first time that Thai citizens have vanished after expressing their political opinions. Wanchalearm is outspoken on social media – his sudden disappearance in a violent incident is deeply alarming,” said David Griffiths, Director in the Office of the Secretary-General at Amnesty International.

Wanchalearm was kidnapped while on the phone with his sister on Thursday by unknown perpetrators in Phnom Penh. Eyewitnesses in Cambodia have identified Wanchalearm as being taken away in an unmarked van.

Both the Thai police and the Cambodian government have denied any responsibility.

However, at least 13 Thai activists have been abducted by unknown actors since 2010.

Local silence

Despite the brazen nature of the abduction, rights organizations within Thailand have largely stayed silent on Wanchalearm’s plight.

The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, which was gutted by a military junta led by current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, has not made any statements on the matter.

Calls by Thai Enquirer to the NHRCT were not returned.

The United Nations High Council for Refugees and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right have not released and statements. Both the UNHCR and the OHCHR have close ties to the Thai government.

According to once source inside the United Nations mission in Thailand, the UNHCR and the OHCHR are unlikely to ‘rock the boat’ too much as their regional headquarters are in Thailand.

“Thailand serves as a base for our mission where we work to help thousands of refugees and rights cases in the region,” said a senior UN source who asked not to be named as the person was not cleared to speak to the media.

“They are not going to ‘rock the boat’ and jeopardize their mission in the country.”

Thai celebrity Nataya Praya Lundberg, a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, came under attack on social media by Thai netizens who accuse her of not living up to the image she created for herself. Praya defended herself and said that she was not cleared by the UNHCR to comment on the matter.

Internet campaign

The hashtag #ยกเลิก112 or (abolish112) trended over the past weekend in response to the disappearance of Wanchalearm. The hashtag alluded to Thailand’s harsh lese majeste laws which protect the monarch from criticism and attack. Perpetrators could face up to 15 years in prison.

The law has been accused by critics of being politicized and used by various actors as a tool to suppress dissent and breed conformity.

Wanchalearm was known to have been critical of the country’s conservative infrastructure.

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