Bangkok, June 5 (efe-epa).- A Thai political activist in self-exile has been kidnapped in Cambodia’s capital, a human rights group reported on Friday, demanding an investigation into the incident.
Wanchalearm Satsaksit, 37, was kidnapped at gunpoint in front of his apartment building in Phnom Penh at 5.54 pm on Thursday and taken away in a black car, according to witnesses and security cameras, Human Rights Watch said.
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, HRW and Thai media reported. He hasn’t been seen since.
“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 in a statement, which also urged an immediate investigation.
“The Cambodian government should urgently act to locate Wanchalearm and ensure his safety.”
The pro-democracy activist fled Thailand after refusing a junta summons following the military coup d’état in May 2014, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).
While in exile, he has continued his political activity, with the most recent post on his Facebook account on June 3 criticizing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, HRW said. It added that an arrest warrant had been issued for Wanchalearm in 2018 for allegedly operating a Facebook page critical of the government.
Since the 2014 military coup, dozens of political activists opposed to the government have taken refuge abroad, especially in neighboring Laos and Cambodia.
At least six other activists have since disappeared in circumstances that NGOs describe as enforced disappearances, and the bodies of two were later found mutilated along a stretch of the Mekong River between Thailand and Laos.
Wanchalearm is from the northeastern province of Ubon Ratchathani and has previously worked with NGOs on HIV and LGBT issues, TLHR said in a statement, while voicing concern over the disappearances of political opponents.
“Since after the coup in 2014 to present, at least 104 people have been driven to seek refuge and have been prosecuted for their opposing political standpoints,” TLHR said.
“Although the NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order, the military junta) has been dissolved, not all refugees can return home. The safety of Thai political refugees, especially in neighboring countries, is still a very worrisome issue,” it added.
The hashtag #save???????? (#SaveWanchalearm) was trending on Twitter in Thailand on Friday, attracting hundreds of thousands of retweets, while a protest was planned for later in the day in the Thai capital. EFE-EPA