Protests in Thailand after alleged abduction of exiled activist in Cambodia

Bangkok, Jun 8 (efe-epa).- Thai pro-democracy activists on Monday called on Cambodian authorities to release a self-exiled Thai anti-government activist who was allegedly abducted in Cambodia last week.

According to United States-based watchdog Human Rights Watch, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, was kidnapped at gunpoint in front of his apartment building in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh at 5.54 pm on Thursday and taken away in a black car.

Thai and Cambodian authorities have insisted to local press outlets that they were unaware of the alleged disappearance.

Around 50 protesters gathered at the Cambodian embassy, where some pasted “missing” posters of the activist on the external walls of the compound.

Others have appropriated the expression “I can’t breathe,” one of the central rallying cries of the ongoing Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests that erupted in the US following the alleged second degree murder of George Floyd while in police custody.

According to HRW and Thai media, a friend of Wanchalearm was talking on the phone with him when the incident occurred and heard him scream, “Argh, I can’t breathe,” before the call was cut off.

Wanchalearm fled Thailand to Cambodia after the military coup in 2014 and was wanted on criminal charges for running a Facebook page critical of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and calling for reforms to the hugely powerful monarchy, a taboo subject in Thailand, where criticising the royal family can be punished by hefty, multi-year prison sentences.

Praya Lundberg, a Swedish-Thai actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for refugees, acknowledged the incident in a reserved statement on social media.

“I am aware of the incident and personally I am sorry for what happened.

“The situation is highly sensitive and complicated,” she said.

Her statement followed a since-deleted post in which she had refused to comment on the reports, saying the issue was “highly political.”

According to Thai English news site Khaosod English, Thailand’s national police commissioner has been summoned by a parliamentary committee on human rights to testify on the circumstances surrounding Wanchalearm’s alleged abduction.

In a statement cited by the same outlet, the committee chairman, Move Forward Party representative Rangsiman Rome, said: “Even though Wanchalearm is a wanted fugitive for violating the computer crime act, he is a Thai national.”

Calling for an urgent investigation in a statement on Friday, HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams said: “The abduction of a prominent Thai political activist on the streets of Phnom Penh demands an immediate response from Cambodian authorities.

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