June 5, 2020 / 5:13 AM / 2 months ago

Exiled Thai activist abducted in Cambodia, rights group says

PHNOM PENH/BANGKOK (Reuters) - Unknown gunmen abducted a Thai political activist in Cambodia’s capital, rights advocates said on Friday, the latest in a series of mysterious disappearances of Southeast Asian dissidents living in exile.

An activist holds a picture of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, a Thai political activist who was abducted by unknown gunmen in front of his Phnom Penh apartment, during a protest for his disappearance in Bangkok, Thailand, June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, was bundled into a vehicle in front of his Phnom Penh apartment on Thursday, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

“The abduction of a prominent Thai political activist on the streets of Phnom Penh demands an immediate response from Cambodian authorities,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director .

At least eight other Thai activists who fled after a 2014 military coup have disappeared here from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, associates and rights groups say, with some later found dead.

A Cambodian police spokesman told Reuters that authorities had not detained the activist. Another Cambodian spokesman, Kissana Phattanacharoen, told Khaosod English online news: “Cambodia is not Thailand. You must ask the relevant country.”

Thai police spokesman Kritsana Pattanacharoen said his agency had no role in the disappearance.

“Thai police only work within Thailand,” he said.

Wanchalearm fled Thailand after he was summoned by military authorities following the 2014 coup.

In 2018, Thai authorities issued an arrest warrant for him for violating the Computer Crime Act by operating a Facebook page criticising the military government from abroad.

Just on Wednesday, he had criticised Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on social media.

According to a 2015 Thai media report citing a security source, Wanchalearm was among 29 exiled activists accused of violating lese majeste laws that make it a crime to insult Thailand’s monarchy. Kritsana denied Wanchalearm faced lese majeste charges.

Rights groups have accused governments in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, of helping one another forcibly return here dissidents and asylum seekers in recent years.

About a dozen activists in Bangkok protested Wanchalearm’s disappearance, placing flowers in front of his portrait on Friday afternoon.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um in Bangkok and Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry

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