#SaveWanchalerm: Bangkok protest to demand answers on abducted exile

A protest will be held this evening on a downtown skywalk to demand answers for the disappearance of a Thai exile abducted in front of his residence in Phnom Penh, hours after he posted a video clip criticizing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha. 

A group led by pro-democracy activists will gather on the Pathumwan Skywalk one day after Wanchalerm Satsaksit, 37, was seen abducted and taken away in a black vehicle near his apartment in the Cambodian capital. A security guard in the area said he tried to intervene but was afraid the kidnapper had a firearm.

A source who claimed to be speaking with Wanchalerm by phone at the time told Prachatai that he said, “Argh, I can’t breathe” before the line was cut. 

Rally organizer and pro-democracy activist Parit Chiwarak of the Student Union of Thailand said today’s protest would demand justice for Wanchalerm from 5pm to 8pm on the skywalk in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. 

Hashtag #SaveWanchalerm has been trending on Twitter since last night. 

“I received death threats and I have seen my acquaintances being arrested, beaten and killed. It’s distressing,” Parit wrote on his Twitter. “Why do people who side with democracy have to get hurt or killed so often?”

Parit couldn’t be reached for further comment as of publication time. Several pro-democracy activists have been savagely beaten in recent years, crimes the police showed little interest in solving.

Human Rights Watch on Friday demanded that Cambodian authorities urgently investigate the abduction and publicly reveal their findings. 

“The Cambodian government is obligated to find out what happened to Wanchalearm, who was taken away at gunpoint in Phnom Penh, and ensure he is safe,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. “Foreign governments and donors should press the Cambodian government to take all necessary measures to find Wanchalearm or risk being complicit in his abduction.”

Prior to his reported abduction, Wanchalerm posted a video denouncing Gen. Prayuth.

“You’re stupid. All you do is talk … Oh such a ruler of Chao Phraya River you are! You can’t rule the country, so people berate you!” Wanchalerm said in the video. 

After the 2014 coup, Wanchalerm, who’s from Ubon Ratchathani province, was among those who refused to report to the National Council for Peace and Order. He was accused of resisting the military junta and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He continued to be politically active in exile.

In 2018, Wanchalerm was accused of being the admin of a satirical Facebook page “I must’ve gotten 100 million baht from Thaksin [Shinawatra],” which criticized and lampooned the ruling junta. A court issued a warrant seeking his arrest for allegedly violating the Computer Crime Act.

Investigative outlet Isra News in 2015 released a photo that showed 40 people and social media pages accused by the authorities of violating the country’s draconian lese majeste law. It included Wanchalerm as a person who had “insulted the political institution.”

A number of Thai dissidents living in exile in neighboring countries have disappeared and are suspected of being abducted and killed in the past four years. A critic known as DJ Sunho vanished in 2016, followed by anti-monarchist Wuthipong “Kotee” Kochathamakun.

Three Thai men vanished from Laos in 2018, and not long after, two bodies were found in the Mekong River stuffed with concrete. Last year, three dissidents living in Vietnam disappeared.

Thai authorities have denied knowledge of or involvement in any of those cases.

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CITY: BANGKOKCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: POLITICS

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