Authorities in Cambodia’s Oddar Meanchey province briefly detained four activist monks Friday and forced them to delete content from their phones after they posted video on social media of what they said was intimidation of supporters at an opposition campaign event ahead of upcoming local elections.
Luon Savath, known as the “multimedia monk,” told RFA’s Khmer Service that he, Prim Huon, Nop Vanny and Seng Nara were arrested by authorities—including deputy police commissioners and Oddar Meanchey provincial governor Sar Thavy—at around 10:00 a.m., after attending a campaign event led by Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha in Samroang commune.
The four were questioned after Prim Huon livestreamed on Facebook a video of security personnel using electric batons to block vehicles from accessing the event and demanding to know which commune the CNRP supporters had arrived from.
“Venerable Prim Huon commented [while live streaming], telling people not to vote for any official or party that routinely uses intimidation, threats or [uses its power to perpetrate] attacks against its own citizens,” Luon Savath said.
“A police officer standing nearby only heard Venerable Prim Huon say the word ‘attacks’ and accused him of spreading falsehoods.”
The four monks were released around 1:00 p.m. after agreeing to delete videos they had shot and promising not to post any more material to social media about the event.
RFA was unable to contact Sar Thavy or the deputy police commissioners present at their arrest for further details about the incident.
The Phnom Penh Post cited a now-deleted Facebook video posted by Luon Savath, in which he speaks with Sar Thavy during the initial confrontation, saying that the monks supported neither the CNRP or the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“We are not broadcasting things that are contrary to or distort the facts. And we just broadcast it, and if it is right or wrong the public will know,” the Post quoted Luon Savath as saying in the video.
The detention of the four monks was only one of several incidents documented on Friday of authorities harassing people present at the opposition rally in Oddar Meanchey.
Oddar Meanchey provincial ADHOC coordinator Srey Naren, who was present when the four monks were arrested, told RFA that provincial deputy police commissioner Puth Ngob ordered his men to prevent him from monitoring their questioning.
Mounh Sarath, head of the provincial CNRP taskforce, told the Post that authorities attempted to prevent organizers from setting up a marquee for the campaign event in Samroang commune, had blared loudspeakers in order to drown out Kem Sokha’s speech, and had set up “illegal checkpoints”—blocking roads and forcing supporters to walk for many miles to the rally.
The campaign event had prior approval from the provincial election committee, he added.
Observers say the CNRP—one of 12 political parties competing for 1,646 commune council seats—could give the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) a run for its money in the June polls, foreshadowing a possible CNRP win in national elections scheduled for 2018.
Reported by Savyouth Hang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.