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Wanchalearm’s Sister Marks Six Months of Thai Activist’s Disappearance

Sitanun Satsaksit stands in front of Mekong Gardens condominium where her brother, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, was allegedly abducted six months ago in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on December 04, 2020. (Aun Chhengpor/VOA Khmer)

Buddhist monks chanted and sprayed sacred water blessings during a ceremony organized by missing Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s sister, Sitanun Satsaksit, at the alleged site of his abduction in Phnom Penh.

Early Friday morning, Sitanun Satsaksit was present with three Buddhist monks outside the Mekong Gardens condominium compound in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district, where she hoped for the “truth” of her brother’s six-month-long disappearance.

“Your sister is looking for you at the present, Wanchalearm, please send your sister some information – with the help of divine angels – for her to know about you as soon as possible,” said a layman present at the ceremony. “Please let the brother know and send information back.”

Sitanun said she is prepared to testify before a Phnom Penh Municipal Court at an inquiry hearing on December 8.

“I don’t know whether I will meet him but the ultimate hope of the family is to meet him again,” Sitanun said with the help of a translator, said today was the first time they visited the site.

“We come here to find justice which will be delivered by the judiciary of Cambodia.”

Investigating judge Sin Sovannroth has summoned Sitanun to testify on December 8, after placing preliminary charges against “unidentified individuals” for illegal arrest, detention and confinement, and unauthorized possession of weapons.

Family and human rights groups have claimed that Wanchalearm, who is known for his biting, sarcastic commentary on Thai elites, fled Thailand soon after Prayut Chan-o-cha toppled an elected government in the May 2014 coup d’état.

Thai media reports said he has since been charged for computer crimes linked to his Facebook page and purportedly for violating Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté provision.

Sitanun Satsaksit, sister of the missing Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, holds a religious ceremony in front of the condominium where he disappeared in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Dec. 4, 2020. (Reuters)
Sitanun Satsaksit, sister of the missing Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, holds a religious ceremony in front of the condominium where he disappeared in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Dec. 4, 2020. (Reuters)

Eyewitnesses living near Mekong Gardens told VOA Khmer, a day after the alleged abduction, they saw men dressed in black clothing beating and dragging Wanchalearm, who was shouting for help. CCTV footage shows the SUV screeching away shortly before 5 p.m on June 4.

“I do not know his whereabouts, which is what we are looking for,” Sitanun said. “We cannot imagine what happened to him which is so unbelievable.

Cambodian authorities have reported to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance that Wanchalearm’s last entry into Cambodia using his Thai passport was on October 19, 2015, and that his Cambodian visa expired on December 31, 2017. They added that there was no record of his residence at Mekong Gardens and the license plates of the SUV were fake.

Sitanun said she would hand over evidence and proof of Wanchalearm’s residency at the condominium.

Interior Ministry’s State Secretary Khieu Sopheak said the fact that Sitanun’s complaint was being processed at the court and that she was allowed to travel to Cambodia showed the Cambodian government’s intention to assist in the investigation.

“To find a missing person is not as quick as we desire for,” Khieu Sopheak said.

“Even a much larger Malaysian aircraft [MH370] has gone missing for years without a trace and have yet to be found. Things like this happen. Time will tell.”

Am Sam Ath, deputy director at local rights group Licadho, said both Thai and Cambodian authorities are obliged to assist Wanchalearm’s family with legal and judicial assistance.

“Want it or not, our [authorities] need to present genuine results of its investigation in a transparent and just manner,” Am Sam Ath said.

Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to requests for comment but has told Reuters that it was following the case closely and working with the Cambodian government.

Sitanun Satsaksit and her legal team are expected to leave Cambodia on December 15, a week after the hearing.