On 2 June, Sitanun Satsaksit, the sister of Wanchalearm Satsaksit and legal advisors sought an audience with the Cambodian ambassador to Thailand to request an update on an investigation into the political refugee’s abduction in Phnom Penh on 4 June 2020. Their request was denied before they could enter the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok.
Sitanun Satsaksit (in the middle) and groups take a symbolic group photo in front of the Embassy entrance.
With the second anniversary of Wanchalearm’s disappearance a few days away, Sitanun and legal advisors went to the Cambodian embassy on Pracha Uthit Road to inquire about progress in a police investigation ordered by the Phnom Penh Court in 2020 after a disappearance case was filed.
They were not welcomed. The embassy’s front sign was fenced off and dozens of Thai police officers, in both plain clothes and uniforms, were waiting for them to arrive.
At the embassy, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, a Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) director and legal advocate against enforced disappearance and torture, asked if they could meet the ambassador to submit their request for an investigation update.
Instead, embassy staff ordered accompanying journalists to stop taking photos and shortly thereafter, Pol Maj Sarot Somhanwong, an inspector from the Wangthonglang police station that oversees the area, told the group that the Embassy advised them to submit their petition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs instead, an action that they have already taken without effect.
It has been two years since Wanchalearm was grabbed by a group of unidentified men in front of Mekong Garden, a luxury condominium in the middle of Cambodia's capital city. Thus far, the investigation has made no progress.
Having filed numerous complaints and petitions with relevant authorities in Thailand and Cambodia, Sitanun questioned why both countries continue to pass the buck about Wanchalearm’s disappearance. After two years, she is angry and exhausted about how little progress has been made, but remains determined to discover her brother’s fate.
Sitanun drops a letter of inquiry at the Embassy's feedback box as their request for entrance was denied.
“Given what happened to Wanchalearm, don’t we have the right to ask for help? It has been two years. We have submitted so many documents that we no longer know who else to contact. Silence and inaction are all we have gotten from Thai and Cambodian authorities,” said Sitanun.
According a statement from CrCF that was meant to have been submitted to the embassy today, Thailand’s Office of the Attorney General issued a letter on 19 May 2022 asking for an update from the Cambodian National Police Headquarters and Phnom Penh Court via Thailand’s Department of Consular Affairs.
A response was received on 24 February 2022 that further testimony in the case was being acquired. The outcome of the process was reportedly secret and further information could not be immediately provided but the Thai Embassy in Cambodia was to be given further updates.
In Thailand, the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) issued a statement on 1 March 2022, saying that it had accepted Wanchalearm’s case for investigation, listed as case number 13/2564. The DSI also reported that it had received documents and requested additional information from relevant Thai and Cambodian authorities.
According to Montana Duangprapa, a Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) lawyer, although Wanchalearm case is under investigation by the Cambodian police as a result of a Phnom Penh Court ruling, his relatives have still not received any significant updates about the investigation.
A plea for justice
Wanchalearm, a former civil society worker and staff member of Pheu Thai Party’s Bangkok gubernatorial election campaign team in 2013, went into self-exile three days after the coup in 2014. He flew out of Thailand, narrowly escaping military arrest.
He was summoned by the NCPO along with 28 other activists to report to a military facility in Bangkok on 1 June 2014. A week later, the junta issued a warrant for his arrest under the Computer Crime Act for political statements he allegedly posted to his Facebook page ‘I must have got 10 million baht from Thaksin’, a pro-Thaksin parody page.
After a short stay in Malaysia, Wanchalearm settled in Phnom Penh, where a sympathetic Cambodian official put him up in Mekong Gardens. Several other Thai dissidents lived there in self-imposed exile at the time.
On 4 June 2020, Wanchalearm, who had been living under the alias of ‘Sok Heng’, disappeared. His friends, family, the United Nations and human rights groups allege that he was abducted by a group of armed men that afternoon while buying food on the street outside Mekong Gardens.
Wanchalearm’s sister Sitanun says she was on the phone with him during the alleged abduction and that she heard him say “I can’t breathe” before the line went dead.
CrCF has issued a statement calling for the Cambodian government to conduct an effective investigation to determine Wanchalearm’s fate and provide information to his family members.