A former official of Cambodia’s banned opposition party arrested over what authorities claimed was a “debt to a microfinance institution” is being held incommunicado inside the Ministry of Interior in the capital Phnom Penh, his wife said Tuesday.
Sok Chenda, a former member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s (CNRP) now-dissolved Prey Veng Provincial Council, was taken into custody at his home in Kram village on Monday and sent to an undisclosed location in the capital “without a warrant,” his wife Soun Chanthu told RFA’s Khmer Service at the time, echoing reports of similar tactics used by police to arrest party members in recent months.
On Tuesday, Soun Chanthu said that she had learned her husband is being held at the Ministry of Interior and that he was being refused a meeting with his family members, adding that she is worried about his health because he suffers from hypertension.
While authorities had claimed Sok Chenda was arrested because of an outstanding debt with a microlender, Soun Chantha and rights groups have said he was likely targeted for his past ties to the CNRP, which was banned by the Supreme Court in November 2017 for its role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government.
The ban on the political opposition, along with a wider crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
Soun Chantha said her husband resigned from the CNRP shortly after it was dissolved and had since been earning a living collecting recycling.
“There is no reason for my husband to have been arrested,” she said.
“It is beyond belief. I am fed up [because he has been targeted], but it is so sad … All my family members want to die.”
Prey Veng deputy police chief Pich Sotharoth refused to comment on Tuesday when asked about the arrest.
National Police Commission spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun told RFA that he was not aware of any charges made against Sok Chenda yet.
“I am investigating the case,” he said, asking for time for the police to “finish their work.”
“This doesn’t mean I am not aware of [the case], but I haven’t received complete information about it yet.”
Soeung Senkarona, spokesman for Cambodian rights group Adhoc, told RFA that Sok Chenda’s arrest, and those of others associated with the CNRP in recent months, are meant to “intimidate and discourage the opposition party.”
He suggested that the government had been using the spread of the coronavirus to legitimize what he called the “arbitrary” arrests of nearly a dozen CNRP members since the outbreak was first confirmed in Cambodia in January.
“This is a campaign to intimidate and discourage the opposition party from participating in any political activities,” he said.
No justice for victims
Also on Tuesday, several CNRP activists told RFA that they are still awaiting justice months after they were attacked by unknown assailants following party chief Sam Rainsy’s announcement of plans to return to Cambodia from exile.
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, 14 CNRP activists and supporters were 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.
On Tuesday, CNRP activist and former commune councilor in Kandal province Sin Bona told RFA he has little hope that authorities will act on his case, stemming from an attack in broad daylight in September while he rode his motorbike on a street in Phnom Penh by two men wielding a metal pipe and a handgun.
The assault left him with a broken left arm that cannot be healed, but he said that police are unwilling to carry out a proper investigation.
“I am afraid—they were equipped with handcuffs when they attacked me on public street,” he said.
“The assailants must have someone backing them up for them to so brutally beat me like that. I have repeatedly asked the authorities and they say they are working on it, but there have been no results.”
A Phnom Penh-based CNRP activist named Khieu Din, who suffered a fractured skull in an attack while riding his motorbike in January, told RFA that his assault was “organized by a system” and had nothing to do with personal revenge because he was not involved in any disputes.
The 66-year-old said he has “no hope” that he will receive justice in his case.
National Police Commission spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said authorities are investigating all 14 attacks on CNRP members, but that no suspects have been identified.
“I’m sorry, I can’t answer questions because I’m not a prosecutor and I don’t have the information for you,” he said.
Adhoc’s Soeung Senkarona said he is saddened that the police have been unable to bring the suspects in the attacks to justice, even when some of the assaults were captured on security cameras, and suggested the public will accuse the government of maintaining double standards if they fail to do so.
“We have observed that if the authorities want to, they can arrest suspects, but the police have no intention [to arrest those] involved in politically motivated cases,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.