Cambodian police arrested a former opposition party activist on Thursday on charges of insulting the ruling Cambodian People’s Party after the woman, who had fled the country to avoid arrest, was expelled from neighboring Thailand for overstaying her visa, Cambodian media reported today.
Sam Sokha, 38, had posted a video on April 1, 2017, of herself throwing a shoe against a billboard bearing photos of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, saying, “These are the men who are destroying our nation.”
Before being forced home from Thailand, where she had applied for political asylum, she had remained active on her Facebook page, regularly posting criticism of the Cambodian government, sources said.
News of Sam Sokha’s Feb. 8 arrest was reported to the government-linked media outlet Fresh News by a senior police officer at the Ministry of Defense, the paper said, though details regarding where and how she was taken into custody were not immediately available.
Sam Sokha, who was sentenced in absentia to a two-year term by a court in Kompong Speu province for insulting public officials, had been registered with the United Nations as a refugee before being forced home, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement Thursday.
“Forcing refugee Sam Sokha back to Cambodia is an extremely serious and absolutely blatant human rights violation by Thailand’s military dictatorship apparently seeking to buy favors from Hun Sen,” HRW deputy director for Asia Robertson told the Phnom Penh Post via email.
In a separate case, Cambodian authorities arrested a parliamentary candidate from the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party this week on charges of having illegally sent Cambodian workers to work overseas, sources told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Ismael Pin Ousman was taken into custody on Feb. 7 after returning to Cambodia from Thailand, where he had fled after being pressured to defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, a CNRP lawmaker from a neighboring province told RFA.
“According to what he told me, Ismael had been lobbied by local CPP officials to join their party, but he refused to defect because he didn’t want to betray his constituents,” he said.
“It was not until today that I heard of his arrest,” he said.
Attempts on Thursday to reach Deputy Prosecutor to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court Seng Hieng for comment were unsuccessful.
In January, five CNRP commune councilors who have gone into hiding since Cambodia's Supreme Court dissolved their party in November said they will not return home amid ongoing pressure to defect to Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling CPP.
"I will never serve the CPP, because the party has no intention to solve the problems of the people," Chak Botha, a CNRP councillor from Battambang province, told RFA's Khmer Service in an earlier report.
"I would rather stand with the people than defect. The people are still suffering social injustice," he said.
Hun Sen's government in September arrested CNRP chief Kem Sokha on charges of treason for allegedly plotting a rebellion with backing from Washington, essentially eliminating any challenge to the CPP ahead of a national election this year.
At the end of November, the National Assembly reallocated the CNRP's parliamentary seats to the ruling party and three smaller government-aligned political parties, while the CNRP's elected local officials have been pressured to defect to the CPP or lose their positions.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.