Cambodian Police Arrest Four Opposition Activists Amid Phnom Penh Protests

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khmer-protesters-080620.jpeg Protesters call outside Phnom Penh's Municipal Court for the release of Cambodian union leader Rong Chhun, Aug. 5, 2020.

Cambodian police on Aug. 6 freed two of four opposition party activists detained on Tuesday as protests continue in the capital Phnom Penh calling for the release of arrested union leader Rong Chhun, Cambodian sources say.

Released on Thursday night were Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials Chhin Sovanna and Ouk Sam Onn, with party officials Chum Puthy and Chuop Pheng still held by the National Police Commission, sources said.

Chhin Sovanna’s son Chum Phuto told RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday that his mother had arrived safely at home following her release, but that his father, Chum Phuty, was still in police custody.

“I was able to speak with him briefly on the phone just before he was arrested while monitoring police actions against a group of Buddhists who were planning to stage a protest for the release of Rong Chhun the next day,” the young man said.

“I am asking for my father to be released, because he has done nothing wrong,” he added.

Scores of Cambodian civil society groups have condemned the arrest of Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), demanding that the government release him and drop charges of “incitement” he faces over his criticism of the country’s handling of a border dispute with Vietnam.

He was jailed at Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh on Saturday, a day after his arrest for claiming the government has allowed Vietnam to encroach on farmland along their shared border. He faces two years in prison if convicted.

Repeated calls seeking comment from the National Police and Phnom Penh police rang unanswered on Thursday.

'Border issue not for activists'

Government spokesman Phai Siphan, speaking to RFA, said however that only government officials have the legal authority to address questions concerning the country’s border.

“People can use their rights under the constitution to petition the government, the National Assembly, and the courts. NGOs have to do things in a civilized way, and not hold strikes or protests or conduct activities at the border.”

“The border issue is not for activists, but for the government to handle,” he said.

Unresolved border issues between Cambodia and Vietnam, former French colonies from the 1860s to 1954, have sparked incidents in the past, with the construction by Vietnam of military posts in contested areas quickly challenged by Cambodian authorities in Phnom Penh.

A joint communique signed by Cambodia and Vietnam in 1995 stipulates that neither side can make any changes to border markers or allow cross-border cultivation or settlement pending the resolution of outstanding border issues.

The CNRP was disbanded by Cambodia's Supreme Court in November 2017 for its alleged role in a plot to overthrow the government.

The move to ban the CNRP was part of a wider crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum and Tin Zakariya. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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