Portraits of disappeared defenders paraded in Bangkok

September 14, 2022

This article – originally published by Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand – was republished by Global Voices on 5 September 2022

To mark International Day of the Disappeared on August 30, a dozen people affiliated with the Mok Luang Rim Nam student activist group gathered at Ratchaprasong Intersection in downtown Bangkok. A small parade was held by activists in Siam Square to raise awareness about forced disappearances. The marchers carried portraits of abducted activists, some of whom were later found dead.

The group carried photos of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, and Siam Theerawut — Thai victims of forced disappearance. Hanging photos of the victims around their necks, some covered their heads with plastic bags in imitation of a suffocation torture technique.

Porlajee Rakchongcharoen is a Karen environmental activist last seen in April 2014 in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials in Phetchaburi province. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/08/22/karen-activist-porlajee-billy-rakchongcharoens-murder-finally-an-indictment/]

Surachai Danwattananusorn, a veteran activist who fled the country after the 2014 coup, disappeared in December 2018 in a neighboring country, and his dead body was later found at the Thai-Laos border. Siam Theerawut also fled in 2014 and was arrested by Vietnamese authorities in 2019 before his reported extradition to Thailand. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Speaking on the occasion, activist Tanruthai Thaenrut said that the group wanted to raise awareness about forced disappearances, to tell people that the government is ignoring these disappearances and silencing the people to make disappearance seem normal.

A 2020 report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances estimates there are at least 75 victims of enforced disappearance in Thailand .

Uniformed police were seen standing guard at the National Police Headquarters on the way to Siam Square. Plainclothes police were reportedly taking photographs of event participants before the event started. When they reached their destination, the Superintendent of Pathumwan police station arrived with other police officers, to quietly monitor the situation.

During the gathering, activists staged a performance symbolizing an abduction. One of the participants placed a black bag over Tanruthai’s head while she was giving a speech. Two others then carried her away while other activists shouted, “Free our friends.”

Mint, a Thai traditional dancer-turned-activist who participated in the march, said that the performance signified that anyone could become a victim of forced disappearance. She noted that human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit was abducted in the middle of Bangkok, and added that the fates of most people who disappeared remain unknown

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