Opinion: Government officials and pro-government media are trying to destroy Wanchalearm’s character; it is nothing new

Government officials and pro-government media went on the offensive on Tuesday claiming that dissident Wanchalearm Satsakit was growing marijuana at his flat in Phnom Penh which they linked to his disappearance.

(Conservative Media like Manager Online have flaunted the news endlessly)

Wanchalearm was abducted by armed men outside of his apartment in Phnom Penh around 6 pm last Thursday. CCTV caught footage of a black SUV pulling up in front of the apartment as a security guard tried to assist the 35-year-old.

The Cambodian government has denied that they are involved, the Phnom Penh police have denied playing any role as well.

He is one of 13 Thai activists living in neighbouring countries that have been abducted by unknown actors since 2010. The notion that he would somehow be nabbed because of marijuana is unlikely, bordering on ludicrous.

The fact that he, like 12 other Thais who were critical of the establishment and the military, disappeared is too much of a coincidence to be random.

It is likely that Thai security forces had some role in his disappearance.

But the fact is, the establishment will not stop trying to assassinate his character until there is enough reasonable doubt to dissipate the kidnapping rumours.

The character assassination will continue perhaps long after any real assassination have already taken place.

Take for example this poll by quasi state-media, the Nation:

It asks whether the viewer believes that Wanchalearm was kidnapped. 96 per cent of viewers said they do not believe it. The chances of that, given the virality of the news both on Facebook and Twitter, are slim.

Or take this post from a former editor at the Bangkok Post and the Nation (now news chief at New 18):

Sermsuk, a noted royalist, practically celebrates the dissident’s disappearance. He comments that Wanchalearm did not have to wait until the next life to face his sins of disrespecting the institution and spreading fake news. Sermsuk also celebrates the ‘security cooperation’ between neighbouring countries.

Nothing New

To many longtime observers of the Thai media and the Thai state, this vile, despicable character assassination is nothing new. In fact, it is par for the course.

Take for example the execution of Chit Singhaseni for the murder of Rama VIII. Even contemporary leaders admitted to their foreign counterparts that the trial was a show trial and that they did not know who really committed the act. But that did not stop them from besmirching his Chit’s character in the show trial or in the media.

He was villainized, called a traitor and executed. His family was run out of town and his descendants shamed with some resorting to suicide. Rama VIII’s successor King Bhumibol Adulyadej later said that he did not believe Chit Singhaseni was guilty, according to scholar Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa.

Or take the case of student leader and activist Chit Phumisak.

The first person to translate the Communist Manifesto into Thai, Chit was highly critical of the military dictatorships of the 40s and 50s.

Eventually, he too was disappeared by the state. But not before they tried to destroy his character by calling him a homosexual, an anti-monarchist and a communist agent.

More recently, the army apparatus have tried to discredit and destroy the reputations of the red shirt protesters, the members of the Future Forward Party, Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal among many many others that would question the establishment and the ‘correct’ order of Thai society.

It is par for the course for a governing institution that doesn’t understand criticisms or democracy, one that is on the wrong side of history and propped up by insecurity and fear.

The reason for the continued assassinations, both real and of character, by the various junta and junta appendages in our history because at its core, all these weak old men know that their rule is illegitimate.

It is our job to not believe their rumours and always remind them of this fact.

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