Thailand has a history of activists who have “disappeared”.
In international human rights law, “Forced Disappearance” happens:
“When a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization, or by a third party with the authorization, support or acquiescence of a state or political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts, with the intent of placing the victim outside the protection of the law.”
On 7 March 2019, the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly defeated a bill against torture and forced disappearance.
Wanchalearm Satsaksit (วันเฉลิม สัตย์ศักดิ์สิทธิ์), political dissident
Wanchalearm is a government critic and political dissident residing in Phnom Phen, Cambodia. According to reports, he was abducted by a group of gunmen in front of his apartment on 4 June. Eye witnesses and a security video confirmed the abduction.
He was hauled into a black car and drove away.
Reportedly, he was on the phone with a friend while being abducted. According to the friend, his last words were “Argh, can’t breathe.”
There’s a 2018 arrest warrant on Wanchalearm for allegedly violating the Computer Crime Act. He’s also accused of violating the lese majeste law.
On Friday evening, 5 June, a group of protestors gathered at the MBK Skywalk in Bangkok’s central shopping district. They demanded justice for Wanchalearm.
There are rumors that Wanchalearm is dead, but at the time of this writing it has yet to be confirmed.
Both Cambodian and Thai authorities have said they would not pursue investigation.
Surachai Danwattananusorn (สุรชัย ด่านวัฒนานุสรณ์), political activist and former political prisoner
A political dissident in Vientiane, Laos, Surachai went missing in December 2018. Two of his aides, Chatchan Boonphawal and Kraidet Luelert, disappeared from the Laotian Capital about a day later.
The two aides’ dead bodies were later found in the Mekong River. Officially, Surachai is still considered “missing”.
Surachai was the last communist to be pardoned in Thailand. He was a member of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party and a founder of the Red Siam Movement.
Known for his anti-monarchy views, he fled to Laos following the 2014 military coup by General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Wuthipong “Kotee” Kochathamakun (วุฒิพงศ์ กชธรรมคุณ), political dissident
Wuthipong is a prominent figure in the “Red Radio” group, which broadcasts anti-government content. The Red Radio movement is linked to the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) movement.
He and others were accused of a plot to assassinate General Prayut.
In July 2017, Wuthipong was abducted by a group of men in black attire from his home in Vientiane, Laos, where he lived as a political refugee.
Den Kamlae (เด่น คำแหล้), land rights activist
Den spent his life fighting for land rights on behalf of the people of the Isan Region in Northeastern Thailand. He was also a member of the Communist Party of Thailand.
On 16 April 2016, Den went missing while working in the forest.
Den had a long-running legal battle with the authorities over land rights.
In April 2013, he and his wife were both convicted of illegal land encroachment, illegal land occupation and deforestation.
In March 2016, the authorities notified the residents of Khok Yao Community, where Den lived, giving them eight days to vacate their homes, accusing them of illegally occupying forest reserve land.
One month later, Den went missing.
On 27 July 2017, his wife was sentenced to six months imprisonment for the 2013 conviction.
Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen (พอละจี รักษ์จงเจริญ), Karen environmental and community activist
Porlajee fought for the rights of Karen communities living in the area of Kaeng Krachan National Park, in Phetchaburi Province. He had a long struggle with the then park superintendent, Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn.
In May 2011, he filed a lawsuit against the superintendent for allegedly burning and destroying the houses of 20 Karen families in an effort to evict them.
On 17 April 2014, he was arrested by Chaiwat and four other men for alleged illegal collecting of wild honey in the forest. He was never seen again.
In 2019, human bone fragments were found in the Kaeng Krachan Dam Reservoir. DNA tests show a match with Porlajee’s mother.
Today, Chaiwat is Protected Area Regional Office 9 Director in Ubon Ratchathani Province.
According to reports, in November 2019, the court issued arrest warrants for Chaiwat and three others for the case of Porjalee.
However, later reports stated that Chaiwat said he has not seen or heard of any arrest warrants.
He still maintains his innocence.
Somchai Neelapaijit (สมชาย นีละไพจิตร), lawyer and human rights activist
On 12 March 2004, Somchai “disappeared” while in Bangkok.
According to eyewitnesses, four men dragged him from his car. He has not been seen since.
Somchai was the lawyer representing five suspected “Muslim insurgents” who were alleged to have participated in an army camp raid in Narathiwat Province in January 2004.
Thailand’s three “troubled” Southern provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani have been under martial law for over a decade due to fighting between government forces and separatist groups.
In 2006, five police officers were charged, but four were acquitted and one was found guilty on the charge of coercion.
While his family and human rights groups have been pushing for justice in the Somchai case, as of 2016, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) declared the case closed.
Thanong Pho-an (ทนง โพธิ์อ่าน), labor leader and democracy activist
Thonong disappeared on 19 June 1991.
He was a vocal critic of the National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC), which was a group of generals who overthrew the democratically elected government in February 1991.
The coup was led by General Sunthorn Kongsompong (the current Army Chief Apirat Kongsompong’s father) and General Suchinda Kraprayoon.
Thanong was chairman of Thailand’s largest union, the Labour Congress of Thailand. He was also a senator and deputy chairman of the International Council of Free Trade Unions Asia-Pacific Regional Office.
Prior to his disappearance, Thanong was planning to participate in protests against the coup-makers.
His wife was quoted in the media:
“He told his family that if he did not come home in three days it would mean he had been abducted. If he did not come home in seven days, then he must be dead.”