Student leader who had spoken up in land dispute detained

An opposition party activist is also arrested in examples of clampdowns on critics of Cambodia’s government.
By RFA Khmer
Student leader who had spoken up in land dispute detained Villagers meet with Koet Saray (L), president of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association, in the forest where they are hiding in northern Cambodia’s Preah Vihear province, March 21, 2024.
(Koet Saray via Facebook)

In two separate incidents, Cambodian police on Friday arrested the leader of a student organization and a senior opposition party activist in the latest examples of clampdowns on critics of the government or official policies.

Koet Saray, who spoke to reporters last month in defense of a group of 100 villagers who recently fled to a forest in northern Cambodia, was pushed into a car by about 10 police officers at the offices of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association.

It was unclear what charges were being brought against Koet Saray, who was taken to Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters for questioning. Police didn’t allow anyone to finish reading the arrest warrant, according to the group’s secretary general, Thorn Sakada. 

“First I thought the police wanted to ask him simple questions,” he said. “Then they asked Koet Sary to come downstairs. When he got downstairs, they pushed him into a waiting car.”

Villagers in the forest where they are hiding in northern Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, March 21, 2024. (Koet Saray via Facebook)

Koet Saray is president of the association, which advocates for good governance and the sustainable use of natural resources. 

Last month, he visited villagers near the Thai border and then gave a series of interviews to media outlets, including Radio Free Asia, in which he spoke about the villagers’ dire living situation. He also posted photos on social media

The villagers began living in a forest in Preah Vihear province following a violent March 6 clash with hundreds of police and other security forces.

Police stand together with shields and helmets in Kulean district in Cambodia’s northern Preah Vihear province on March 6, 2024. (Citizen journalist)

RFA was unable to reach Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman Sam Vicheka for comment on Friday’s arrest.

Koet Saray was previously arrested in 2020 when he and another activist planned to lead a protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park to demand the release of union leader Rong Chhun. 

He was a Buddhist monk at the time. Authorities defrocked him before his court appearance, charged him with incitement and sent him to Prey Sar prison. He was released in 2021.

Candlelight Party official arrested

Meanwhile, Phnom Penh police arrested a senior Candlelight Party activist Dang Bunhak at his home on Friday morning, the party said in a statement. 

No warrant was presented during the arrest, according to the statement. 

“This is yet another intimidation tactic to threaten people’s spirits in order to discourage them from being involved with politics and to provoke a bad environment,” the party said.

The National Election Committee ruled last May that the opposition Candlelight Party couldn’t compete in last July’s national elections, citing inadequate paperwork. But the party still hopes to field candidates in the provincial, municipal and district council elections scheduled for next month.

Later on Friday, Phnom Penh Municipal Police issued a statement saying Dang Bunhak has been accused of fraud after police received complaints that he registered candidates without their consent. 

Additionally, another top Candlelight Party official – Teav Vannol – is facing a defamation lawsuit and was summoned to appear in court on Wednesday, party officials said.

The lawsuit filed by a government lawyer is based on comments Teav Vannol made to Nikkei Asia in February during a trip to Japan that were critical of Prime Minister Hun Manet.

RFA was unable to reach Teav Vannol, the party’s president, for comment on the lawsuit on Friday. 

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.


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Sam Yuok
Apr 06, 2024 08:04 PM

Never, ever trust comunism especially in Cambodia's Hun Sen.