It’s been over two weeks since the disappearance of government critic Wanchalearm Satsaksit.
There is a social media campaign to keep the hashtag #savewanchalearm alive until he is found. To not also let the topic disappear.
On 4 June, armed men kidnapped Wanchalearm from near his apartment building in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. Since then, the public has been demanding for both the Thai and Cambodian governments to take responsibility for finding him. But to no avail.
Meanwhile, people have been putting up posters and tying white ribbons around Bangkok, demanding justice for Wanchalearm. But the City has taken them down, citing “public cleanliness.”
Wanchalerm fled the country in 2014 when he was summoned by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), following the military coup by General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
He has been living in Cambodia since.
Can you walk us through what happened that day?
I was on the phone with him when I heard the bang. I thought Wanchalerm was hit by a car or something. Then there were people speaking in Cambodian, and there was my brother saying he couldn’t breathe over and over again. I stayed on the call until it was cut off.
I have a friend in Cambodia, so I asked him to check in on Wanchalerm for me. He called me back after 20 minutes and said “Brace yourself, Wanchalerm has been kidnapped.”
I cried until I didn’t know how to cry anymore. A lot of his friends called to console me and told me that they would do whatever it takes to help find him.
How often do you speak on the phone with your brother?
We would speak very often and about everything. We are very close. I helped babysit him ever since he was a kid when we were both growing up. He is quite lonely in Cambodia, so I was the one person he would share stories about his life over there, or ask me for advice on things. I would also do the same when I needed advice, I would call him.
[23 June] I went to file the case with the Office of the Attorney General. We can’t go to Cambodia right now because of COVID-19, and the police over there are saying they can’t do anything unless a family member files a complaint. The Office of the Attorney General said they would help.
I’m not doing this for just Wanchalerm, but for every other activist who has been made to disappear. I don’t want anyone to feel like they are fighting this alone.
How is the family coping?
My mother and I hope that he is still alive. We would gladly have him back in whatever condition; even if he could be in critical condition, I would gladly look after him. Or if he is dead, at least give us confirmation, because not knowing whether he is dead or alive is very difficult.
I can’t move forward. We pray every day that he is still alive.
What do you think about free speech in Thailand?
Just look at what happened to Penguin and his friends when they were just trying to tie white ribbons [they were arrested and threatened with Emergency Decree]. I really want to hug those kids for trying to fight for the rights of disappeared activists. Why are they being attacked? I don’t know who is doing all this to them; it was just a ribbon.
Do you think we have freedom of speech?
Realistically, what do you want to happen in Thailand?
I think things have changed quite a bit already. Before this, people may not have been brave enough to take a stance or fight for the rights of disappeared activists.
But now we are seeing so many people coming together and fighting for Wanchalerm.