The National Police spokesperson on Friday said they were unable to confirm if Thai pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit lived at a Chroy Changvar condominium where he went missing last week, even though eyewitnesses reported details of the abduction to VOA Khmer.
Wanchalearm Satsaksit was abducted on June 4, according to a statement released by Human Rights Watch on June 5. VOA Khmer spoke to eyewitnesses near the Chroy Changvar condominium who said they said the pro-democracy activist was abducted by three men and placed into a black Toyota Highlander SUV.
After nearly a week of denying having any knowledge of the incident, the Cambodian authorities said they had received a diplomatic note from Thailand requesting verification of news reports about the abduction.
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kimkhoeun said the police had asked the condominium owner if he recognized Wanchalearm Satsaksit and if the missing activist rented an apartment there.
He said that the activist’s visa had expired in 2017 and it was unclear if he left the country or continued to live “illegally” in Cambodia.
The spokesperson said the owner denied having a tenant named Wanchalearm and that none of the staff there recognized him when shown a photograph of the activist.
“As a result, there is no name [of him] registered at that condo. This is our primary investigation to verify the news,” he said. “The condo owner said there was no such name.”
Thai news publication Prachathai published short CCTV clips from the abduction, but Chhay Kimkhoeun said he wasn’t aware of the source of the video clips nor had police reviewed any CCTV footage.
The spokesperson took offense to questions about whether people in the neighborhood had been questioned or asked if they had witnessed the incident.
“You are asking like you are a court investigating official or judicial police,” he said. “I don’t feel good with this question. For this investigation, you don’t need to teach us.”
Eyewitness accounts conveyed to VOA Khmer reveal that Wanchalearm Satsaksit was abducted outside his apartment in the late afternoon of June 4. A black Toyota Highlander SUV pulled up next to the Thai activist, according to sources, who requested anonymity.
The witnesses said one unidentified man, dressed in black and wearing a mask, punched Wanchalearm Satsaksit in the neck and dragged him to the car. Two other unidentified men were also part of the abduction, they said.
“Chuoy pong. Chuoy pong. Chuoy pong. Chuoy pong,” were the last words bystanders heard Wanchalearm shouting, which translates to “please help.”
A few days later when VOA Khmer visited the condominium again, a security guard informed reporters that people who witnessed the incident wanted to help but they were hesitant because the alleged abductors were armed.
Soeng Senkaruna, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said eyewitnesses had confirmed the adduction, so the police need to thoroughly investigate the case.
“I am concerned that the condominium owner dared not to talk since they are afraid of being involved,” he said.
“The police should ask people who live there and [look at] the CCTV cameras as well,” he said.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the Thai and Cambodian governments were slow and reluctant to investigate the case. He said there was adequate evidence readily available for investigating authorities.
“But now the investigation has finally started, Cambodia government must pursue a serious, impartial and transparent investigation that leaves no stone unturned in finding out what happened to Wanchalearm,” he said in an email on Tuesday.
“They should not rest until they find him and prosecute those responsible for the abduction.”
Wanchalearm Satsaksit fled the Thai junta after the 2014 coup and is a prominent activist affiliated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the “Red Shirts,” according to a Human Rights Watch statement. He is wanted for alleged online crimes, the rights group said, and the Thai media report he is also charged with purportedly violating Thailand’s strict lese-majeste provision.
The activist is politically active on social media and has continued to publicly criticize Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, posting a video criticizing him on June 3, a day before he went missing.