Missing activist’s sister blocked from protesting during Hun Sen visit

Sitanun Satsaksit, sister of missing activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit, was met by a police blockade yesterday (21 February) when she attempted to protest in front of the Shinawatra family residence during a visit by former Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen with Thaksin Shinawatra.

Sitanun Satsaksit (right) holding a picture of her brother
(Photo by Ginger Cat)

Sitanun travelled to Baan Chan Song La, the Shinawatra family residence, yesterday morning (21 February) intending to demand information about her brother’s disappearance after it was reported that Hun Sen would be visiting Thaksin, who has been released on parole.

However, police officers blocked her car, preventing her from reaching the residence. She decided instead to protest in front of the Siam Commercial Bank’s Sirindhorn Road branch, where she was surrounded by over 50 plainclothes officers.

Sitanun told Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) that she was held there for over 3 hours and that the police told her not to go anywhere without permission. She felt threatened because she was being surrounded by many men in plainclothes. She also noticed a unit of women crowd control officers moving towards her, but after she asked one of the men what they were doing there, the women officers moved away.

Sitanun also noticed during her conversation with the plainclothes officers that some of them has information about her place of work and could speak about specific incidents that only a person in the same building would know. The conversation made her feel unsafe, since she believed that she has been closely watched.

Sitanun said she came seeking the truth of her brother’s disappearance, since he went missing in Cambodia and used to work for the Pheu Thai Party before fleeingThailand.

Sitanun posted a video clip to her Facebook account of police vehicles blocking her car en route to Baan Chan Song La.

Sitanun said that, while she was driving to Baan Chan Song La, she was surrounded by many police officers who asked her where she was going. When she told them her destination, she heard an officer shout an order to arrest her. She was frightened and decided to drive away and stop in front of the bank, a crowded, public area.

Deputy police chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn later came to speak to Sitanun. He insisted the police were not ordered to arrest her on sight, and tried to ask her what she planned to do once she got to Baan Chan Song La. He also told her that it would affect Thailand’s reputation if she protests in front of Baan Chan Song La and that she should speak to him about what grievance she has.

Sitanun submitted a petition to Pol Gen Surachate calling for the Thai authorities to follow up on Wanchalearm’s disappearance, after the Cambodian delegation said during a review by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) that, although Wanchalearm went missing in Cambodia, no agents of the Cambodian government were involved in his disappearance. She also filed a complaint about the police harassment she experienced.

Sitanun was finally released after Cross-Cultural Foundation director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, as Sitanun’s lawyer, told the police that Sitanun should be free to go since there is no reason to continue holding her. Sitanun headed to parliament to run an errand. However, she noticed while leaving the parliament building that she was being followed by plainclothes officers driving a car and at least 2 motorcycles.

Other protesters joining Sitanun in front of the Siam Commercial Bank holding images of Wanchalearm. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

TLHR said that a friend of Sitanun who announced on Facebook on Tuesday night (20 February) that Sitanun was staging a protest in front of Baan Chan Song La received a phone call from a person working for the Pheu Thai Party asking for information on Sitanun’s protest.

The friend received another phone call from anoter person in the Pheu Thai Party, who told her that they are worried about the protest and that speeches might be given insulting Thaksin and his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra in front of the family’s residence. The person told the friend to calm down, and that if they are not listened to, there will not be any more space to talk about Wanchalearm’s disappearance.

TLHR also noted that, while Sitanun was prevented from reaching the Shinawatra residence, Thaksin’s supporters, as well as others who said they used to support him but no longer do, were allowed to gather in front of the house and spoke to the media.

Pornpen said that many victims of enforced disappearance suffered the same fate as Wanchalearm. She called on the Cambodian government, as a signatory of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), to investigate what happened. She also called on the Thai authorities to follow up on the case with Hun Sen, who oversaw the investigation in Cambodia.  She believes Cambodia authorities have enough information to make a case and thinks that the government should do its job to deliver justice to victims of enforced disappearance and their families.

Sitanun sitting on the side walk during her protest
(Photo by Ginger Cat)

Wanchalearm disappeared on 4 June 2020 while living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he fled after the 2014 military coup. Both the Thai and Cambodian authorities have repeatedly denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. The Cambodian authorities said after his abduction that his visa had expired on 31 December 2017 and that there was no evidence of him living in Phnom Penh. However, Wanchalearm’s sister Sitanun Satsaksit said he was travelling under a Cambodian passport with a Khmer alias and that he had a Cambodian bank account. So far, no progress has been made in the investigation into his disappearance.

A 2022 report by Prachatai and VOD found links between Wanchalearm and political elites both in Thailand and Cambodia. He was also deeply embedded in the Red Shirt Movement and had worked for the Pheu Thai Party. Sitanun said he worked for the current Bangkok governor, Chadchart Sittipunt from 2012 – 2014 when Chadchart was minister of transport in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister. Meanwhile, Thai dissident in exile Nuttigar Woratunyawit said he was part of an initiative to create an online network of Red Shirt activists and Pheu Thai supporters to counter the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, which was established by right-wing royalists in 2013 to depose the Yingluck government.

After arriving in Cambodia, Wanchalerm reportedly became acquainted with Khliang Huot, the former governor of Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district, who has been identified by several sources as a ‘handler’ for Thai exiles who fled to Cambodia following the 2014 coup. A photograph on Huot’s Facebook account in 2012 shows the man standing next to Thaksin and Hun Sen. Other photos show him with various Thai political figures, including Red Shirt leaders, former MPs and ministers from Yingluck’s cabinet.

He was also a supporter of fellow Thai exiles, many of whom sought advice from him about how to escape into Cambodia. 

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