The disappearance of Surachai Danwattananusorn has sent shivers among exiled anti-monarchists, particularly in neighboring countries.
Surachai went missing Dec. 10 in Laos, where he had fled since martial law was declared two days prior to the 2014 coup. His wife Pranee told me this past Monday she fears the worst for her 77-year-old husband and pleaded for his captors to release him unharmed.
Others in Laos; a dictatorial, one-party communist state; are not taking chances as Surachai was not the first but third to disappear there without a trace.
There was anti-monarchist Koh Tee, Wuthipong Kochathamakun, who vanished in July 2017 and is largely presumed to have been abducted and killed. Ittiphon Sukpaen, an underground internet program host better known as DJ Sun Ho, also went missing around the same time last year. Ittiphon in fact used to co-produce underground programs with Surachai calling for change to the Thai political system from a kingdom to a republic.
About 31 lese majeste fugitives are in exile. Those who made it to France, other parts of Europe or the United States have much more security compare to those trapped in Laos and Cambodia.
One young anti-monarchist in Laos told me this week that over four years since fleeing Thailand, he has given up hope of making it to a third country.
“I am not prominent enough,” he said on condition his name not be used due for fear of his safety.
He said the United Nations has failed to offer tangible assistance and Western embassies have declined his asylum application. He also alleged that one European embassy in Vientiane eventually told him they lost his Thai passport after refusing to grant him political asylum.
Now, without a passport, the man said he just has to keep fighting for his cause from Laos and trust his life in Lao officials who who have monitored him for the past four years.
He pointed out that junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha briefly visited the Laos capital to meet with government leaders. and He believes exiled dissidents are now in real danger.
Another anti-monarchist and a former lese majeste convict in Laos has chosen a different path.
Thantawut Twewarodomgul, a prominent anti-junta Redshirt activist and former lese majeste detainee, wrote online Tuesday that he has decided to end his activism to survive.
Thantawut, better known as Nuem Red Nont, asked rhetorically if he made the wrong decision by choosing to lie low and focus on earning a livelihood and surviving in Laos.
He said his parents in Thailand became depressed during the past three years as a result of officers “checking on them for news” about him every week and end up having to be hospitalized.
“Do not expect me to be a fighter. I am not a fighter. I am just a citizen who saw injustice during that period and joined the movement and ended up being imprisoned. … I fled because I did not want to live under dictatorship or any illegitimate power, not even for a second, because three years and four months and 15 days in prison was more than enough,” Thantawut wrote.
“I have never changed but I have to keep quiet because this country and that country are next to one another,” he added, referring to fears that junta security forces conduct reconnaissance in Laos to exfiltrate or abduct their enemies, charges repeatedly denied by the Thai junta.
No matter the truth, these people have paid a high price for their ideology. With elections promised just two months from now, no political party will touch the lese majeste law, not even Future Forward with its progressive platform that includes pushing for freedom of expression, and not the Commoner Party, which claims to champion participatory democracy and egalitarianism.
These political parties don’t want to attract strong opposition or be branded as anti-monarchist for touching the draconian lese majeste law, which carries prison terms of up to 15 years.
Anti-monarchist dissidents in Laos are trapped. With less prosecution for lese majeste under the new king, they waited forlorn to return to Thailand as free people or to leave for a third country where there’s more freedom and opportunities than Laos or Cambodia.
This is the story of the another Thailand that some would rather ignore.