Authorities in northwestern Cambodia’s Battambang province summoned 12 members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party to court this week to answer charges they were still active in the opposition group dissolved by court order almost two years ago.
Seven of the activists received their summons on May 1, with the others summoned the day before, Thong Saroeun—a member of the banned party in Battambang’s Koas Krala district—told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday.
“I will not be intimidated, and I will be happy to appear before the court to answer their questions,” Thong Saroeun said, adding, “I haven’t committed any crimes. I am a [Cambodian] citizen, and I have a right to be involved in politics.”
Also speaking to RFA, CNRP activist Sim Lao said he was surprised to receive the summons to appear in court, as he had committed no crime, and vowed to continue his support for the banned opposition group.
In Sept. 2017, Cambodian authorities arrested CNRP President Kem Sokha on charges of “treason,” and the Supreme Court dissolved the opposition group two months later, paving the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
The CNRP has since reorganized outside the country, with opposition leader Sam Rainsy serving as acting president, and many members remain active at the grassroots level, voicing their political views on social media and in social gatherings.
Sam Rainsy, who left Cambodia in November 2015, was appointed acting head of the CNRP in January while Kem Sokha remains in pre-trial detention under house arrest, and has vowed to return to Cambodia this year to lead the party’s supporters in ousting Hun Sen.
“I regard Sam Rainsy as my father, and I support him,” Sim Lao said, speaking to RFA. “If my father returns, I will welcome him and accompany him home.”
Also speaking to RFA on May 1, Ying Mengly—Battambang provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc—called the summons of the local CNRP members “politically motivated,” adding that Hun Sen and Cambodia’s ruling party are concerned that the opposition group may now regroup at home.
“Their intention is to destroy the [local] CNRP structures so that the party’s members can’t reorganize,” he said.
Death in custody
Meanwhile, Am Sam Ath—a senior investigator in the Cambodian rights group Licadho—called on authorities in Kampong Cham province to investigate the death in custody of the son of a CNRP commune chief in the province’s Stung Treng district.
Tith Ron, 26 and the son of CNRP member Eam Tith, died on April 17 in what police described as a fall in a jail restroom, though his body bore multiple bruises, raising fears he had been killed by jail guards.
“Even though the prosecutor claims this was not a case of torture, the public has no faith in him, and there must be an investigation to examine the facts of this case,” he said.
Kampong Cham provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun meanwhile denied that Tith Ron had been killed in detention, claiming the young man had died in an accident while drunk.
“Our authorities are looking into this, but the other prisoners said that he simply fell down and died,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.