Cambodia police deny arresting missing Thai democracy activist

Wanchalearm Satsksit has been a sharp critic of the Thai government. (Facebook pic/Wanchalearm Satsaksit)

PHNOM PENH: Cambodian police said Tuesday they will investigate the alleged disappearance of a self-exiled Thai activist, denying any involvement in what a rights group claimed was an abduction.

Pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsksit, a sharp critic of the Thai government, was dragged into a car in broad daylight last week in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, according to Human Rights Watch, which cited witnesses and security camera footage.

“I would like to confirm that Cambodian authorities and police did not arrest that individual,” National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun told AFP, as fears mounted about the activist’s safety.

“We are launching an investigation into it … it’s not clear yet at what level this information (about his disappearance) is true.”

The announcement came after Cambodia’s interior ministry spokesman said last week that the HRW report could be “fake news”.

Thai police have also denied any knowledge of Wanchalearm’s whereabouts, while a foreign ministry spokesman said they had asked their embassy in Phnom Penh to get more information.

But Wanchalearm’s family has issued a public plea begging for his “release”, and other pro-democracy activists in Thailand have staged small protests to demand a probe.

Wanchalearm is wanted by Thai authorities for allegedly breaching the Computer Crimes Act and Article 116 in the Thai penal code, which criminalises writing that incites unrest.

He ran an acerbic anti-government Facebook page, where he had cryptically written “Compromise Mode” a few hours before his alleged disappearance.

Since a May 2014 coup, Thailand has vowed to track down pro-democracy critics, especially those accused of attacking the kingdom’s unassailable monarchy.

Ex-junta head Prayut Chan-O-Cha was voted in as civilian premier in 2019 elections, but his administration bears the legacy of the coup, with a cabinet stacked with ex-generals and military allies.

According to HRW, at least eight prominent Thai activists who fled after the last coup to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have subsequently disappeared.