Cambodian authorities arrest opposition activist, put hearing of others on hold

The arrest is a ‘sign of a threat’ against the reactivated opposition group, says one party leader.
Cambodian political opposition activist Sok Vel in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Candlelight Party

Cambodian police on Thursday arrested a former member of a now banned political party who has since joined another opposition group, his wife and the party’s acting president said.

The provincial police in northwest Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey arrested Sok Vel, a former member of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), and his wife, Hun Sophoan, while they were traveling, Hun Sophoan said.

The arrest occurred on the same day that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court adjourned a hearing involving other former leaders and activists of the now-dissolved CNRP because many of the charged people are now living in exile.

Sok Vel had joined the new Candlelight Party, formerly known as the Sam Rainsy Party, before his arrest. On Nov. 9, a court charged Sok Vel with treason over an alleged plan to bring acting CNRP leader Sam Rainsy back to Cambodia.

Sam Rainsy, 72, has lived in exile in France since 2015. In March, he was sentenced in absentia to 25 years for what supporters say was a politically motivated charge of attempting to overthrow the government. The Supreme Court, viewed as beholden to Prime Minister Hun Sen, banned the CNRP on Nov. 15, 2017.

Hun Sophoan said her husband did not commit any crime and urged the court to release him.

“My husband is not a traitor, he is a nationalist,” she said. “I want the court to release my husband because he is innocent.”

Thach Setha, a former lawmaker of the CNRP and now acting president of the Candlelight Party, told RFA that Sok Vel’s arrest “is a sign of a threat against the opposition party.”

Thach Setha urged the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen to compete fairly with his party. He said Candlelight will help Sok Vel with legal assistance.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court adjourned its hearing against 42 CNRP leaders and activists due to a number of absences, as many of those charged now live abroad. The court was scheduled to hear from Sam Rainsy and former CNRP leaders Eng Chhai Eang and Mu Sochua on treason and incitement charges. All were absent.

Prison officials brought 13 CNRP activists who are being detained in Cambodia to the hearing.

CRNP lawyer Sam Sokong said he was dismayed that the government has prevented his clients who cannot appear in person from participating in the hearings, adding that their absence would go against them during the trial.

“The court should allowed video conferences or Skype hearings so that my clients can participate in the trial and provide evidence to prove their innocence,” he said.

CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua, who lives in California, said the trial was is an effort by Hun Sen “to eliminate the voice of the opposition.”

The court has adjourned the trial until Dec 23.

Seng Chanthorn, wife of Thun Sun, a former CNRP member who was arrested for making critical comments about Hun Sen, said she was disappointed that the court held only a brief session before putting the trial on hold. The delay only extends the detention of her husband, who has been in jail for about two years, she said.

“The court is performing a drama. It has wasted the government budget,” she said.

Soeung Sengkaruna, spokesman of the human rights organization Adhoc, said the case stems from a political conflict and should not be resolved through the court.

“The court has continued to detain the activists without clear procedures,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translates by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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