On July 29, Ko Tee (Wuttipong Kochathammakun), a famous Red Shirt, federalist and so-called “lese majesty suspect,” was extra-judicially abducted in Laos by 10 Thai men (they were reportedly speaking Thai) and possibly assassinated. According to two witnesses, who at the time were tied up, gagged, and heads covered with cloth, it seems Ko Tee was suffocated because he shouted “I can’t breath” before going quiet. He is probably dead, but may still be alive. Please demand answers from the Thai government.
This enforced disappearance is way too similar to that of Ithipon Sukpand, or DJ Zunho, another exiled Thai pro-democracy activist. In our last letter, we mentioned that this young man, whose only crime was broadcasting a prodemocracy show from exile, was abducted from Laos by a group of presumably Thai men in camouflage, leaving behind only a motorcycle and one shoe. He has never been seen or heard from again and is presumed dead.
The abduction of Ko Tee is especially sinister because it was done mafia-style a day after July 28, the birthday of the new King, Vajiralongkorn. Thais following Ko Tee and his federalist message are hyper-aware of this date and read this as a warning from the Thai junta and monarch to exiled dissidents throughout the world.
Thailand has repeatedly claimed it is in the process of getting cooperation from foreign governments to extradite the lese majesty suspects from abroad. These announcements are made to unnerve the exiles, even though no foreign governments will ever cooperate on this matter. It was immediately after one of the failed attempts to get Ko Tee extradited for lese majesty that a stash of weapons was discovered at his house back in Thailand, three years after he fled the country. This looked very much like a set up and a pretense to try again to get him extradited.
In fact we have known for a long time that Ko Tee and other dissidents in exile are being actively hunted. Political Prisoners in Thailand quotes Kaosod English, as saying “A member of the Thai dissident community living in Laos said they were warned by Laotian authorities last week that they were ‘being hunted down’ by those from the other side of the border, a reference to Thai authorities.” Our own organization had posted an March 24, stating: “Dictators have used all means to hunt and eradicate members of the pro-democracy movement, especially core leaders of the Organization for Thai Federation, such as Ma Noy, aka, Ko Tee, or Mr. Wuttipong Krotdhammakhun. Ma Noy has been issued an arrest warrant with a reward of at least 30 million baht. Recently he faced with a failed attempt to capture and murder him. He escaped it miraculously.”
Now what we all fear has happened.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, who has been ruling Thailand since he overthrew the elected government in a coup in May 2014, claims to know nothing about this operation. But it was obviously carried out either by the junta government, or by direct orders of King Vajiralongkorn. It is not plausible that independent vigilantes loyal to Vajiralongkorn carried this out because the new king is not at all popular. This new king rules by fear.
Many are distancing themselves from this incident both out of fear of crossing Vajiralongkorn and others because they objected to Ko Tee’s sometimes violent rhetoric. Those who are happy to sacrifice Ko Tee are missing the point. We don’t get to choose who is and who isn’t worthy of human rights. And equally important, we can’t condone a state-sponsored assassination carried out in a foreign country in order to scare Thai dissidents throughout the world. Both the King and this junta are breaking their international human rights commitments with complete impunity and infringing on the sovereignty of foreign countries because they think no one will be brave enough to object. Indeed, almost no one officially objected to the previous assassination of Ithipon Sukpand, or DJ Zunho.
Please demand answers from the Thai government in this case. Ask Laos to ensure the safety of the refugees who have fled there and to give them documents so they can travel. UNHCR needs to step in right away to protect these unfortunate prodemocracy ‘Thai activists in their neighboring countries. Please also help pressure the Thai government to pass laws against enforced disappearance, a practice widely used in Thailand to eliminate political activists and dissidents.