BANGKOK: A Laos activist is feared missing in Thailand, rights groups said Friday, calling for an urgent investigation into his whereabouts after a rash of similar disappearances of dissidents in Southeast Asia.
Pro-democracy campaigner Od Sayavong was last seen nearly two weeks ago in Bangkok, where he had been living as he sought resettlement to a third country by the United Nations (UN) refugee agency, right groups said.
He had been registered as a “person of concern” by the UN in 2017 because of activism focused on Laos, a one-party communist state with little tolerance for dissent.
Od had campaigned for democracy and lobbied for the right of migrant workers from Laos, according to a joint statement from the International Federation for Human Rights and the Lao Movement for Human Rights.
The statement suggested Thai authorities might have handed Od back to Laos, sparking fears he could be “the latest casualty of increased cooperation between the government of Thailand and its regional counterparts.”
Thailand and its neighbors have been accused of swapping exiled dissidents in recent years as tolerance for political activism shrivels across Southeast Asia.
The UN High Commissioner of Refugees did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Od’s case, while an officer at the police station near his home said no migrants had been arrested there in the past month.
His disappearance follows a spate of similar cases in recent years.
Five Thai activists have disappeared from their homes in Laos since 2016, and in December two of their corpses were found in the Mekong River in Thailand.
Their stomachs had been stuffed with concrete.
Rights groups believe three others have been deported from Vietnam to Thailand — although both governments deny any knowledge of their whereabouts.