Cambodian Authorities Arrest Second Opposition Activist in Two Days on ‘Treason’ Charges


2020-03-27
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cambodia-thai-kunthea-kampong-chhnang.jpg Thai Sokunthea in Kampong Chhnang province, in an undated photo.
Thai Sokunthea's Facebook page

Authorities in Cambodia’s Kampong Chhnang province on Friday arrested the second activist with the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in two days, charging him with “conspiracy to commit treason,” sources said.

Police took Thai Sokunthea into custody while he watered his crops near his home, his son-in-law Men Kosal told RFA’s Khmer Service, adding that authorities failed to produce a warrant during the arrest and did not inform his family members.

“I am saddened because police made no effort to inform us of the crime he [allegedly] committed,” he said.

“The arrest was made by force and is a form of pressure. There is no justice for our family.”

Men Kosal told RFA that his family didn’t learn of his father-in-law’s arrest until several hours after it took place, and only because they were informed by neighbors of what had happened, but by that time Thai Sokunthea had already been taken to the capital Phnom Penh, where he is being held in Prey Sar Prison.

He steadfastly rejected accusations by police that his father-in-law had committed any crime.

Thai Sokunthea’s arrest came a day after Court officials and police stormed the residence of CNRP Provincial Chief Keo Thai and arrested him without a warrant, according to family members, who said they had no idea why he was taken into custody.

Keo Thai’s daughter, Keo Chan Rachana, told RFA on Thursday that her father, an English teacher, had been teaching classes remotely after schools were ordered to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

Police had attempted in March 2019 to arrest Keo Thai for criticizing the government on Facebook, but he fled before police surrounded his house.

After CNRP leader Sam Rainsy failed to return to Cambodia from self-imposed exile in November 2019, Prime Minister Hun Sen scaled back arrests of party members suspected of being involved in the bid for repatriation. The loosening of restrictions had allowed Keo Thai to return to his home.

Speaking to RFA on Friday, National Police Commission spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said that the two arrests were made based on warrants issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on charges of “conspiracy to commit treason” and “incitement to commit a felony.”

He refused to elaborate on details of the alleged crimes.

“We have documents in our hands,” Chhay Kim Khoeun said. “If they didn’t commit any crimes, they would not have been arrested.”

‘Purely politically motivated’

Ny Sokha, director of local rights group Adhoc’s Human Rights Department, told RFA that the arrests were “purely politically motivated,” noting that the two activists had been previously targeted by the government.

He said he had seen no evidence of any Cambodian planning to launch a “color revolution” or join in a plot to commit treason in Cambodia and warned that the arrests will only deepen the country’s political crisis, leading the international community to ostracize Hun Sen’s government.

“The government should be easing tensions [amid the COVID-19 outbreak] situation,” he said.

“The two leaders of the ruling and opposition parties should be working in solidarity when the country is facing a crisis to make sure that the people will not be infected amidst the outbreak.”

The ban on the political opposition, along with a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.

As of Friday, Cambodia had 99 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with no reported deaths. The virus has infected more than 586,000 people worldwide, leaving nearly 27,000 dead.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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