Cambodia Arrests Second Rapper in Days Over Politically Charged Rhymes

cambodia-long-puthera.jpg Long Puthera in a promotional photo posted to his YouTube page.
YouTube/Long Puthera

Authorities in Cambodia have arrested a second rapper on charges of “incitement” in days, a court official in the country’s Siem Reap province said Tuesday, after he released songs suggesting that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s lack of leadership had led to economic decline.

Long Puthera, who penned the track “Wipe Your Tears and Continue Your Journey, Khmer Eyes,” was arrested “late last week” and jailed on charges of “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code, Siem Reap Provincial Court spokesperson Chhuon Sopanha told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“The judge ordered him detained on charges of incitement,” he said. “The accused has the right to an attorney.”

The rapper had regularly posted songs on his YouTube page under the name Thxera-Kampuchea and had thousands of followers.

Long Puthera’s acquaintances told RFA that they had been unable to contact his family members since his arrest, as they live in a different province.

The young musician is also friends with fellow rapper Kea Sokun, known for his song “Khmer Land,” which touched a political third rail by criticizing the Cambodian government’s handling of its border dispute with Vietnam.

Kea Sokun was arrested Sept. 4 in Siem Reap province and also charged with incitement after authorities booked his wedding photography business for a pre-wedding photo shoot and took him into custody when he arrived, his brother Chheang Chhat told RFA last week.

Chan Chamroeun, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, told RFA Tuesday that his organization is investigating the two cases and working to provide lawyers to defend the pair of rappers.

He said that the two young men had simply sang songs reflective of current Cambodian social issues and had not breached any laws.

“The authorities should have allowed for their freedom of expression—this freedom is important because it helps the government understand the concerns of the public,” he said.

“The authorities should allow for constructive criticism so that the government can identify loopholes in the system and fix them.”

Wave of arrests

Last week, amid an ongoing wave of arrests of voices critical of Hun Sen’s leadership, Rhona Smith, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, wrote in a Facebook post that “the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are protected by international human rights norms and standards as well as by the Cambodian Constitution.”

She urged authorities to ensure that those arrested are promptly tried and that their due process rights be fully respected.

On Friday the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said it had documented the arrest of 24 human rights campaigners since popular labor leader Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was taken into custody July 31, including eight in September alone.

While 13 were released after pledging to refrain from further rights activities, 12 remain in detention—most of whom face charges of “incitement to commit felony,” including three environmental activists.

The wave of arrests come three years after opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha’s September 2017 arrest over an alleged plot to overthrow the government with the help of Washington. Cambodia’s Supreme Court banned his party in November that year for its supposed role in the scheme.

The move to dissolve the CNRP marked the beginning of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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