Human Rights Group Urges Thailand to Stop Forcing Dissidents to Return Home - Latest Global News

Human Rights Group Urges Thailand to Stop Forcing Dissidents to Return Home

BANGKOK (AP) — A leading international human rights organization called on Thursday for the Thai government to stop forcing political dissidents who fled to Thailand for safety to return to authoritarian homelands where they face torture, persecution or death.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch said Thai authorities repeatedly violated international law by expelling the dissidents, many of whom were registered as refugees with the United Nations and awaiting resettlement in third countries.

The report, titled “We Thought We Were Safe,” analyzed 25 cases that occurred in Thailand between 2014 and 2023.

Many cases involved the forced repatriation of Cambodians, with the suspicion that Cambodian security personnel were involved. But the group also listed cases in which dissidents from Vietnam, Laos and China were “tracked down and kidnapped” or “forcibly disappeared or killed.”

The report said that in exchange for tracking down and repatriating the dissidents, the Thai government received the cooperation of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to spy on Thai dissidents who had fled their own homeland to escape political repression.

Human Rights Watch described this as a form of transnational quid pro quo repression “in which foreign dissidents are effectively exchanged for critics of the Thai government living abroad.”

The group said such arrangements, known informally as “swap mart,” became increasingly common after the Thai army staged a coup in 2024 that toppled an elected government. Military and military-backed rule lasted ten years until an elected civilian government led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin took office last year.

“The Srettha government should launch an investigation into these allegations of harassment, surveillance and forced repatriation of asylum seekers and refugees in Thailand. “It should investigate the disappearances of Thai anti-junta activists in other Southeast Asian countries,” Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press.

“I think there is an opportunity to put an end to this practice and for the Srettha government to show that it is different from the previous military-led government,” she added.

She noted that the Thai government is currently seeking a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, “and with that comes responsibility for protecting human rights.”

The report cites nine cases of Thai activists in Laos and Cambodia who disappeared or were killed under mysterious circumstances.

The mutilated bodies of two missing activists were found floating in the Mekong in late 2018. In 2020, a young Thai activist, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, was snatched off the street in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and never heard from again.

Thai authorities have repeatedly denied any connection to such events.

Dr. Francesca Lessa, associate professor of international relations at University College London, said there were some parallels with the way autocratic governments in Latin America in the late 1970s to 1980s reached agreements to work together to defeat their political opponents on the soil of each to eliminate others.

“Whether they follow right-wing or left-wing ideologies, these autocratic governments view opposition and dissent as a threat to their survival in power and therefore must be eliminated by whatever means necessary,” Lessa told the AP.

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