Another opposition official arrested in run-up to Cambodia’s council vote

A dozen Candlelight Party activists have been arrested since January, the party’s secretary general says.
By RFA Khmer
2024.04.29
Another opposition official arrested in run-up to Cambodia’s council vote Cambodia’s Candlelight Party supporters wave before marching during an election campaign for the June 5 communal elections in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on May 21, 2022.
(Heng Sinith/AP)

A Candlelight Party official has been detained and sent for police questioning in Cambodia’s Kampong Cham province – the latest arrest of an opposition party activist ahead of next month’s council elections.

Seven plainclothes police arrested Kong Thareth at his home on Sunday, held him overnight and sent him to provincial court for questioning on Monday, his son told Radio Free Asia.

No reason was given for the arrest, Kong Ly Hour said. He added that the family doesn’t have any personal or business disputes.

The Candlelight Party is planning to field candidates in the May 26 provincial, municipal and district council elections, even though the National Election Committee ruled last year that the party wasn't eligible for last July’s national elections.

Only those already directly elected by the public to Cambodia’s 1,652 commune councils are allowed to vote in the council elections.

Kong Thareth is the second deputy chief of Veal Vong commune – an elected, local government position. He is also the deputy chairman of the Candlelight Party’s executive committee in Kampong Cham. 

ENG_KHM_ActivistArrested_04292024.2.jpg
Kong Thareth, in an undated image. (Candlelight Party via Facebook)

“Before the arrest took place, there was a call asking him to meet a very important person to discuss something, but he refused,” Kong Ly Hour told RFA. “Then he was told that if he doesn’t come to meet them, there will be a big problem.” 

After Kong Thareth was taken into custody, police deleted video from Kong Ly Hour’s phone and warned him not to take any more pictures, according to Kong Ly Hour.

A dozen arrests since January

Under Prime Minister Hun Sen, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP, has used threats, legal action and offers of cash or government jobs to co-opt political opponents and activists.

Hun Sen, 71, resigned in August but remains the head of the CPP. His son, Hun Manet, became prime minister.

Since January, 12 Candlelight Party activists have been arrested across the country, according to Ly Sothearayut, the party’s secretary general.

Those arrests include senior activist Dang Bunhak, who was taken by police from his Phnom Penh home on April 5. He was accused of fraud after police received complaints that he registered candidates without their consent. 

“Those who were arrested, some of them are the local election candidates and some of them are currently commune councilors elected by the people,” Ly Sothearayut told RFA. “We are asking for their release. They have full rights to political activities of the party they favor.” 

In March, another opposition activist, Meu Seanghor, was arrested in Kampong Cham and charged with incitement.

Meu Seanghor had planned to be a candidate for the upcoming council elections, according to the newly established Nation Power Party, which said last month that the arrest was “an act of intimidation” and would “provoke a gloomy environment” ahead of the May 26 election. 

RFA attempted to contact Kampong Cham Provincial Police Commissioner Heng Vuthy for comment on Kong Thareth’s arrest, but the call went unanswered.

Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Edited by Matt Reed.

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