Cambodian Officials ‘Dragging Feet’ on Wanchalearm Abduction

Sitanan Satsaksit holds a photo of Wanchalerm Satsaksit on July 30, 2020.

BANGKOK — The sister of a Thai activist who disappeared in an apparent abduction in Cambodia said local law enforcement agencies were paying no importance to the case.

Speaking at a news conference on Thursday night after her return from Cambodia, Sitanan Satsaksit said that Cambodian police and a judge did not properly investigate the case of Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

“The Cambodian police did not conduct a proper investigation,” Sitanan said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

Sitanan visited Cambodia from Nov. 10 until Dec. 15 in search of her brother. During her investigation, she said, Sitanan met with the Cambodian police commander on Dec. 7 and presented evidence to Phnom Penh Civil Court on the following day. She completed and left her quarantine in Thailand on Dec. 30.


“I got the impression that officials in Cambodia did not care about the evidence we presented. They said if we could not provide stronger evidence, they would not investigate the case at all.”

Wanchalearm is an anti-military activist who fled Thailand to Cambodia after the armed forces staged a coup in May 2014.

He spent the following years in Cambodia criticizing the government and the monarchy online. He was reportedly kidnapped by a group of men in front of his residence in early June in Phnom Penh.

Both Thai and Cambodian governments have not given any explanation to his disappearance. Their collective silence prompted Sitanan to travel to Cambodia, at her own expense, and sought the answers.

“Cambodia has denied every single piece of information or evidence that the family has submitted,” Badar Farrukh, human rights officer from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “The anguish and sorrow of the family may reach the threshold of torture.”

A security guard who allegedly witnessed the kidnapping said he was too afraid to provide testimony, Sitanan said.

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Demonstrators march in Bangkok on Dec. 3, 2020, to demand answers from the government over the disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

Sitanan also said Thai authorities have not given her any information or conducted any formal inquiry of their own. All of the investigation over the past eight months was done by Sitanan.

Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch said that hope for investigation into Wanchalearm’s case depends on a revival in media attention.

“As months go on, and public interest declines, this gives a chance for Cambodian authorities to drag their feet,” Sunai said. “They will say, ‘we will look into it, but please give us more evidence.’”

“We need to rebuild media attention,” Sunai continued. “If Wanchalearm can be disappeared, we too can be just like him.”


But there is a glimmer of hope. The Human Rights Watch researcher said of 80 or so enforced disappearance cases in Thailand, Wanchalearm’s is the first where the Thai government had a response within 24 hours.

The foreign ministry had also asked Cambodia what had happened within a day of Wanchalearm’s disappearance.

Correction: An earlier version of this article’s headline misspelled Wanchalearm’s name.