More than 50 Cambodian police officers conducted a search of the Khmer Power Party’s headquarters in the capital Phnom Penh on Tuesday, after its president was arrested on charges of insulting the military.
The police checked computers and seized documents at the office in Tuol Kouk District two days after the political party’s president Sourn Serey Ratha was arrested on Aug. 13 for posting Facebook messages offensive to the Cambodian Armed Forces.
Sourn Serey Ratha was charged with three counts of incitement, including insulting the military, for a perceived disrespectful online post he made on Aug. 12 in which he accused generals of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces of enjoying air conditioning and female companionship while rank-and-file soldiers did the fighting and dying.
Cambodian-American Sourn Serey Ratha founded the pro-American party in March 2010, though it did not officially register as a political party until five years later. The Khmer Power Party (KPP) advocates the abolishment of Cambodia’s monarchy and the establishment of a new regime as the second Khmer Republic.
Authorities have suspected Sourn Serey Ratha of having connections to Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLP) leader Sam Serey, who mentioned Sourn Serey Ratha’s name in a Facebook post on Aug. 13.
The Cambodian government considers the KNLF a hostile political group that seeks to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) government.
“I condemn Vietnam and the puppet regime of Hun Sen for arresting the president of the Khmer Power Party for just voicing his opinion on Facebook,” Sam Serey wrote in his post.
“Sourn Serey Ratha’s arrest is politically motivated because the Khmer Power Party has connections with and supports the Khmer National Liberation Front,” he wrote.
“It is unequivocal that the Cambodia-Laos dispute is a political game to divert people’s attention from the human rights abuses committed by the government,” he wrote in a reference to Lao soldiers’ recent occupation of an area south of the Sekong River claimed by both Laos and Cambodia.
On May 5, the spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense blasted RFA for an article it published the day before about the presence of Lao soldiers in Cambodian territory, calling it “fake news.”
Last week, however, Hun Sen acknowledged that Lao soldiers had been on Cambodian soil since April.
The troops left the disputed zone following a meeting on Aug. 12 during which Hun Sen and Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisolith pledged to work to reduce tensions.
Suong Sophorn, acting president of the KPP and a former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) candidate who defected to the KPP on Aug. 9, said he considers the raid of the party’s headquarters to be politically motivated.
He also said it was not appropriate for authorities cite the Facebook post by Sam Serey as the basis for the search.
“As someone with a background in law, I don’t think a letter by so-called KNLF president Sam Serey should be used to implicate Sourn Serey Ratha,” he said. “As the acting president of the KPP, I strongly reject such a letter.”
Sourn Serey Ratha is being detained in Phnom Penh’s notorious Prey Sar prison after being charged on Monday.
His trial is scheduled for Aug. 24.
Reported by Savi Khorn for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written by Roseanne Gerin.