(New York) – The Thai government should immediately disclose the whereabouts of three activists who were reportedly extradited from Hanoi to Bangkok, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai authorities have not acknowledged their arrest and detention, raising grave concerns that they have become victims of enforced disappearance.
In early 2019, Vietnamese authorities reportedly arrested Chucheep Chivasut (known as Uncle Sanam Luang), Siam Theerawut (known as Comrade Khaoneaw Mamuang), and Kritsana Thapthai (known as Comrade Young Blood) for illegal entry and using fake travel documents as they tried to flee persecution from authorities in Thailand. Reports from Prachatai News and the Thai Alliance for Human Rights said that Vietnamese authorities handed them over to Thai authorities on May 8. Thai authorities have previously accused the three men of committing lese majeste (insulting the monarchy), including by operating online anti-monarchy radio programs and mobilizing supporters of Chucheep’s Organization for Thai Federation to hold demonstrations against the monarchy by wearing black T-shirts in Bangkok and other provinces.
“The Thai government should immediately disclose the whereabouts of Chucheep and his two colleagues, and permit their family members and lawyers to see them,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Only by publicly affirming that these three activists are in detention and in contact with their relatives and legal counsel will the authorities put to rest the fear that these men have been forcibly disappeared.”
Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the safety of Chucheep and his two colleagues. The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held in incommunicado detention.
Since the May 2014 coup, Thai authorities have aggressively pursued Chucheep and other anti-monarchy activists who operated from neighboring countries. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan announced in September 2018 that the Organization for Thai Federation is an outlaw group and threatened to arrest everyone involved with it.
The Thai government has repeatedly demanded that Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia hand over the exiled Thai activists. Authorities appear to have prioritized action against Chucheep’s group in Laos due to their online radio programs and commentary on social media, which have strongly criticized Thai military rule and the monarchy.
Chucheep and his two colleagues moved from Laos to Vietnam after the brutal murder of the prominent anti-monarchy activists Surachai Danwattananusorn, Kraidej Luelert, and Chatchan Buphawan, who had been abducted by unknown people in Laos in December. Previously, two other anti-monarchists – Itthipol Sukpaen and Wuthipong Kachathamakul – had been abducted in Laos, in June 2016 and July 2017, respectively. None of these cases have been successfully resolved.
Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. Thailand has signed but not yet ratified the International Convention against Enforced Disappearance.
“Vietnam’s alleged secret forced return to Thailand of three prominent activists should set off alarm bells in the international community,” Adams said. “United Nations agencies and concerned governments should press the Thai government to immediately reveal where Chucheep and his two colleagues are being held and allow others to visit them.”