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Five Months On, Cambodian Police Have No Leads in Thai Activist’s Disappearance

Activists hold up pictures of abducted Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit as people gather in support of him during a protest calling for an investigation, in front of the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, June 12, 2020. (REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha)

The National Police said they have made no progress investigating the disappearance of Thai pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, even as his sister travels to Cambodia to push for a court inquiry.

The Cambodian Police on Monday said they had no information on the whereabouts of missing Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was abducted in June by three masked and armed men outside his apartment block in Phnom Penh, according to eyewitness accounts relayed to VOA Khmer.

The activist’s sister, Sitanan Satsaksit, will travel to Cambodia on November 10 with three lawyers to prepare for a court appearance in December, where she will again push for an investigation into Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s disappearance. A court summons accessed by VOA Khmer shows that she will be questioned on December 8 by Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Sin Sovannarath.

After a request from Thai officials, Cambodian authorities denied having any leads in the alleged abduction, despite media reports of CCTV footage of the incident and eyewitness testimonies.

National Police spokesperson Chhay Kimkhoeun said on Monday that Cambodian police investigations haven’t been able to confirm whether the Thai activist was abducted in Cambodia or not.

“There is no new progress. The Cambodian police will cooperate with her if she comes in an open-minded manner,” he said. “But so far, I haven’t received any information about her coming here.”

Chhay Kimkhoeun suggested there was a chance the crime was not committed in Cambodia. Cambodian officials have said that Wanchalearm’s visa expired in 2017 and they were uncertain if he was in Phnom Penh during the incident.

“We have been trying to investigate. But if this didn’t happen in Cambodia, how can we find out?” he said.

Sitanan Satsaksit has told VOA that she was on the phone with Wanchalerm as he was pushed into a car.

“I heard a bang. Then he kept repeating ‘I can’t breathe...I can’t breathe’ before the phone disconnected. That was the last time I ever heard from him,” she said.

She said she was unsure if Cambodia was willing to seriously investigate the case while accusing the Thai government of orchestrating the abduction.

“Everyone knows who did this. The Thai state was involved, I said this publicly several times,” she said without giving further details.

In June, four UN human rights experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, issued a joint letter to the Cambodian Foreign Minister over the alleged abduction of Wanchalearm Satsaksit. The experts requested Cambodia to provide detailed information on the investigation process and the whereabouts of Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

Chhay Kimkhoeun instead asked for UN officials to provide information on the alleged abduction.

“They should cooperate and provided evidence to Cambodia so that we have more basis to do more searching,” he said. “If they just say they are worried without giving evidence and are pointing the finger at Cambodia, we don’t know what to do.”

According to the Cambodian Police, the owner of the Mekong Gardens condominium, where Wanchalearm Satsaksit lived, said the missing activist did not live in the building.

The police also said that the Toyota Highlander that was used to abduct Wanchalearam Satsaksit, as seen in CCTV footage, was using fake vehicle registration plates. Additionally, they said the activist’s visa had expired in 2017 and his whereabouts were unknown since then.

VOA Khmer spoke to eyewitnesses on June 5, who said that Wanchalearm Satsaksit was abducted by three armed men and put into a black Toyota Highlander SUV on June 4. This happened outside his residence, Mekong Gardens, in Chroy Changvar district.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, questioned if witnesses were worried about speaking to the police because they were worried about their safety.

“Cambodian authorities should do a thorough and credible investigation because it is a big story and has attracted international attention,” he said.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit fled the Thai junta after the 2014 coup and is wanted for alleged online crimes, according to Human Rights Watch. Thai media reports said he had also been charged for purportedly violating Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté provision.