Cambodian authorities on Wednesday detained three more opposition party activists on insurrection charges for participating in a peaceful protest that turned violent last year, prompting one lawmaker to say the move was linked to the party’s recent criticism of the government over contentious border disputes with neighboring Vietnam.
Keo Mony, investigating judge of Phnom Pen municipality, issued arrest warrants for the activists from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), who are now being detained in the capital’s notorious Prey Sar prison, defense lawyer Sam Sokong said.
The municipal court also issued arrest warrants for two other CNRP activists who participated in the July 15, 2014, rally that led to clashes between protesters and security forces in the capital’s Freedom Park.
The three detained activists — Roeurn Chetra, Yun Kimhour and Yia Thong — told reporters that they had joined the peaceful protest that day, but did not engage in any illegal activities.
“We appeal to our people to please support youth and help seek justice for us, Yun Kimhour said. “We didn’t commit any crimes. We didn’t do anything like the allegations say.”
The CNRP issued a statement condemning the arrests and calling for the unconditional release of the activists. It also accused Prime Minister Hun Sen's government of threatening opposition party members and keeping them from doing their duties in accordance with democratic principles.
Last month, authorities arrested 11 other CNRP activists who participated in the rally and sent them to Prey Sar prison after they were convicted on insurrection charges. Three received 20-year sentences, while the rest received seven-year sentences.
Sam Sokong said the new arrests could be based on video clips that authorities used to identify targets, and that more activists would likely be arrested.
Am Sam Ath, an investigator for the domestic rights group Licadho, said the arrests were politically motivated, especially after a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday during which he called for authorities to make more such arrests, following the sentencing of the 11 activists.
“The arrests were not based on legal aspects because this case happened more than a year ago,” he said. “Why has the court just now issued arrest warrants for the activist after Hun Sen’s speech?”
CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An told RFA’s Khmer Service that the arrests were related to party activists’ and parliamentarians recent role in disputes over alleged territorial encroachment by Vietnam.
CNRP lawmakers and activists have led groups of residents to inspect disputed border areas, one of which led to clashes at the end of June between Vietnamese villagers and Cambodians who were inspecting a road that the Vietnamese built in Svay Rieng province.
The disputes have been accompanied by opposition accusations that the map being used by the Cambodian government to demarcate the border with Vietnam is a fake.
“The government has tried to pressure the CNRP’s activists and parliamentarians to be quiet on the border issue [because] it’s heating up,” Um Sam An said. “People are saying that the government isn’t solving this problem properly.”
Cambodians who live along the border in disputed areas have decried the government’s demarcation of border posts with Vietnam, he said.
“This problem is hot — that’s why the government needs to arrest CNRP activists in order to stop the issues related to the border,” he said.
In its statement, the CNRP said the arrests were contrary to the spirit of political cooperation that it forged with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on July 22, 2014, in which the opposition ended a nearly one-year boycott of parliament and the ruling party adopted key reforms to the country’s electoral body.
The CNRP urged an end to the political tension and a refocus on solving matters of national importance.
Reported by Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.