Authorities in Cambodia have arrested a former government official affiliated with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), RFA learned on Wednesday in the latest in the government’s crackdown on former members of the now-banned political party.
Chhum Chan, who had been the provincial commune councilor in Prey Veng province before the CNRP was banned in late 2017, was arrested by the provincial police and the Ministry of the Interior on charges of incitement and attempting to topple the government. He was sent to a detention center in Phnom Penh immediately following the arrest, his wife and a local NGO said.
His wife Chhorn Sinoeun told RFA’s Khmer Service Wednesday that police tricked her husband, only saying that they needed to question him when they asked him to come to a district police station in Prey Veng’s Peam Ro district, offering no indication that he might be arrested.
Once Chhum Chan arrived at the station they promptly arrested him, she said, adding that she was only able to find out Wednesday that he is being detained at Prey Sar prison because he was able to call her via cellphone to request money to spend inside the prison.
“I don’t know why the police arrested my husband,” said Chhorn Sinoeun.
“I didn’t have time to welcome the new Theravada because my husband was detained,” she added, referring to the timing of the arrest, just prior to the Khmer New Year holiday, which runs through Thursday.
“I would like the government to drop the charges against my husband and release him,” she said.
NGO condemns arrest
Soeng Senkarona, spokesman of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) NGO, told RFA that the arrest was politically motivated.
He added that Chhum Chan had been a teacher but was removed from his position because he had been a member of the CNRP and demanded that the Ministry of Education reinstate him.
“He has been continually involved in activism, so if the arrest was meant to silence him, it shows that [the authorities] are trying to shut down freedom of speech,” said the spokesman.
Authorities have arrested eight CNRP activists since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lonely holiday for CNRP families
Relatives of detained CNRP activists told RFA that their families are under duress as the activists are being held through the Khmer New Year. The detentions have left a sour mood over the holiday, usually a joyous time, they said.
Chhum Sinoeun’s son, who asked not to be named, said his family members could not smile because his father is being detained.
He asked the government to reconsider the arrest and drop the charges.
“Normally we could all see each other, but not this year,” he said.
Buth Samak, wife of detained CNRP activist Khut Chrek, told RFA, “It is very sad because it is one of the few times we meet every member of the family, but not this time.”
“I am not happy. My husband was the breadwinner and now I have to [figure out how to] feed the children,” she said.
Sam Sokong, a lawyer who represents the eight CNRP detainees, told RFA he is continually working to make sure those activists will be released, with plans to request bail. He added that because of the coronavirus it is difficult for him to meet his clients inside prisons.
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.
More Facebookers arrested
Meanwhile, Police in Kampong Thom province arrested a 21-year-old Lak Seang Ly for posting on Facebook, a video that decried the travel ban imposed by the government to stem the spread of he coronavirus.
He was charged with incitement to commit a felony in the provincial court for telling his Facebook followers to also denounce the ban and is now being held in prison.
RFA attempted to reach the province’s Police Chief Ouk Kosal for comment, but were not successful. The National Police website reflected the charges of incitement.
In the video, Lak Seang Ly said “People can still travel during the New Year, because we aren’t infected with COVID-19.”
ADHOC’s Human Rights Unit Chief Ny Sokha told RFA that authorities should only educate the young man, asking him to stop spreading misinformation instead of arresting him.
“He is young, and he said what he saw,” said Ny Sokha.
“He did not pay attention. They should just educate him,” he added.
Police have arrested 28 people to date over their COVID-19 social media posts. Twelve are being held in prison and 16 have been conditionally released.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.