BANGKOK: The Immigration Bureau promised on Thursday to investigate the disappearance of a dissident Vietnamese journalist believed to have been abducted at the northern Bangkok Future Park mall two weeks ago.
Truong Duy Nhat, an anti-regime activist and contributor to Washington-based Radio Free Asia disappeared the day after he was granted refugee status by the Bangkok office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Nhat's disappearance has been linked in the foreign press and social media to the case of a Saudi asylum-seeker in January, and the arrest and extradition trial of a Bahraini football player with refugee status in Australia - all in Bangkok in the past month.
According to Amnesty International, witnesses have stated that Nhat was abducted from Future Park on Jan 26, the day after he had registered at the UNHCR office.
On Thursday, Immigration Bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn said there was no official record of Nhat entering Thailand, but his office was looking into whether he entered the country illegally and what may have happened to him.
"I've ordered an investigation into this matter," Surachate told the Reuters news agency.
Rights groups called for an investigation after Radio Free Asia reported on Tuesday that Nhat, who was jailed in Vietnam in 2014-15 for "conducting propaganda against the state" in his blog, had gone missing.
"Vietnam has a track record of abducting its exiles and refugees abroad. Thai and Vietnamese authorities must urgently come forward with information about Truong Duy Nhat's disappearance," wrote Amnesty International in a message signed by Minar Pimple, Amnesty's senior director for global operations.
Rights groups said Nhat fled to Thailand after receiving a tip that he was in danger of being re-arrested by Hanoi officials.
"Nhat was in Thailand for one reason only, to apply for asylum and someone obviously didn't want him to - so now the Thai government should launch an immediate investigation to find out what happened to him," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
The UNHCR in Thailand said it could not comment on or confirm individual cases.
Nhat's disappearance is the latest high-profile refugee case in Thailand this year. It also is the fifth disappearance of political dissidents in or near Thailand.
Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia, began fighting extradition back to Bahrain on Monday in the Criminal Court.
(Australia said on Thursday it is reviewing its Interpol alerting procedures after its authorities forwarded a "red notice" to Thailand that Araibi was wanted by Bahrain, despite his refugee status.)
In early January, Thai authorities detained an 18-year-old Saudi woman after she said she was fleeing family abuse, but Bangkok halted plans to deport her to Saudi Arabia. The case of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun ended in her resettlement in Canada.
Last month, two bodies of disappeared dissidents known to have taken shelter in Laos washed up on the banks of the Mekong River. Two other men including the well-known leftist Surachai Sae Dan are missing and believed to have been disappeared as well.