A young woman activist with the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been attacked by an unknown assailant, bringing to 16 the number targeted since mid-2019 and prompting condemnation from the opposition Tuesday over what they allege is a campaign of intimidation by authorities.
Eang Maryna said a male suspect wearing a helmet with a face mask to conceal his identity beat her, leaving her unconscious with a severe head wound, after she left her home on Monday to buy food in what she described as a normally quiet neighborhood in the capital Phnom Penh.
“First, he hit me with a rock causing me to black out and then he hit me a second time,” she told RFA’s Khmer Service as she recovered on Tuesday.
“Then he pointed his finger at me and threatened me, telling me to ‘watch out.’”
Eang Maryna said that she had earlier posted a video to her Facebook page in which she criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including pushing through a new law authorizing a state of emergency to contain the outbreak critics have said could be used by the government to maintain his grip on power and quash dissent.
After posting the video, she said she had been attacked in comments on Facebook by police and members of the military who threatened to harm her and arrest her.
Eang Maryna said she had not filed a complaint about the attack with authorities because she had been summoned for questioning over her social media posts in the past by her local police station, but she vowed to continue speaking out about government injustice.
“I will continue to criticize [the government] because I want a leader who runs the country democratically,” she said.
RFA was unable to reach National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun for comment Tuesday.
Speaking to RFA from self-imposed exile in Thailand, where he lives out of fear for his security, former CNRP chief of Phnom Penh Morn Phalla said Tuesday’s attack was orchestrated by the government to intimidate the opposition, which is also why he believes no suspect has been arrested.
“This is nothing out of the ordinary—I think the assault was organized,” he said.
“The Phnom Penh authorities use violent methods against CNRP activists and supporters to weaken their spirits because they dare speak the truth about what has happened in society.”
In August, Sam Rainsy, the acting president of the CNRP, said he would return home on Nov. 9 to lead a restoration of democracy in the country through peaceful protests, but was blocked from doing so and forced to return to Paris, where he has lived since 2015 to avoid a string of charges and convictions he says are politically motivated.
Since the announcement, 16 CNRP activists and supporters have been targeted in attacks that opposition officials said amount to a campaign orchestrated by the CPP to sow fear within the community. Police have yet to arrest any suspects in the cases, although National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun has said investigations are ongoing.
Soeung Sengkaruna, spokesman for local rights group Adhoc, told RFA that the authorities “need to take legal action to apprehend the suspects to avoid criticism that they are engaged in political discrimination [against the opposition] and apply a double standard.”
‘Establish a new party’
Also on Tuesday, CPP spokesman Sok Ey San said the ruling party won’t negotiate with the opposition unless it establishes a “new party,” after a Cambodian youth leader based in South Korea recently established a “political front” that could serve as an arena for a variety of stakeholders working to restore democracy in Cambodia.
While the front is not a political party, Sok Ey San said it consists of CNRP members who are still banned from taking part in elections because of the Supreme Court ruling of 2017.
“The only option for CNPR members is to establish a new party in order to compete in the next election,” he said.
Sam Rainsy on Tuesday welcomed the establishment of the political front however he said CNRP “must lead the movement.”
“The CNRP is a vital tool—it was very hard to establish, so we must maintain and work to strengthen it,” he told RFA.
“We can’t disregard the party. This is what I have been working on for the past 20-30 years.”
Political analyst Em Sovannara told RFA it is a good idea to establish a movement to restore democracy in Cambodia, but said it is crucial for the movement to convince the CPP to trust it.
He said that the current political situation is at a stalemate because the CNRP and CPP don’t trust one another.
“The political crisis in Cambodia cannot be resolved by Cambodian politicians because neither side trusts the other,” he said, adding that “only the international community can help” to resolve it.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.