Autistic Teenaged Son of Jailed Cambodian Opposition Member Sent to Jail

Kak Sovannchhay, 16, is accused of incitement and insulting public officials.
2021-06-28
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Autistic Teenaged Son of Jailed Cambodian Opposition Member Sent to Jail Prum Chantha (L) and her son sit at a Buddhist temple near Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh, Oct. 6, 2020.
Prum Chantha

Cambodian authorities have sent the teenaged autistic son of a jailed member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to Prey Sar Prison after being charged with incitement and insulting public officials, his mother said.

Kak Sovannchhay, the 16-year-old son of former senior CNRP member Kak Komphear, was arrested at his house on June 24 by about 20 Phnom Penh police, said his mother, Prum Chantha, who suggested the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen was trying to silence her protests over her jailed husband.

“The Hun Sen regime arrested my husband and is arresting my son. It is very cruel,” she said.

“They shouldn’t arrest my son who does not know anything. He is a minor and does not have a good memory,” added Prum Chantha.

“Why did the authorities arrest my son? He was orphaned by his father in prison, and I go out to protest every Friday,” said the boy’s mother.

Prum Chantha joined fellow members of the “Friday Wives” group of women who hold weekly protests demanding the release of their husbands jailed on incitement charges for expressing views critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s leadership in staging a protest Friday and submitting a petition to the British Embassy that was blocked by city authorities.

While British embassy officials came out to receive the petition and promised to send it to the British ambassador, Phnom Penh authorities cracked down on the group of women, grabbing banners of photos of their detained husbands, pushing them and spraying alcohol in their faces, witnesses said.

"Let the government rethink this, stop arresting your own people, drop the charges against my husband and son and release all of them,” said a sobbing Prum Chantha.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sokseiha told RFA’s Khmer Service that these women were disturbing other citizens and did not seek permission from city authorities. 

"I told you many times that if they have permission from Phnom Penh City Hall, it does not matter, but the important thing is they don’t have any permission from us,” he said.

In April Kak Sovannchhay was assaulted by two men on a motorbike while traveling with his mother to a hospital in the Phnom Penh for treatment. The men immediately fled the scene of the attack, which left the teen in need of 20 stitches, Prum Chantha told RFA at the time.

In October, the boy told RFA that he was beaten by police while in custody after being arrested for entering the CNRP’s abandoned headquarters to collect flags.

He was arrested by local police after entering the party’s old headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Chak Angre Leu district by climbing over a fence, according to the authorities, who later released him without charge after being forced to sign a letter confessing that he had been “wrong to illegally enter a prohibited place” and vowing to refrain from doing so in the future.

“In the past, Sovannchhay was assaulted by an unknown person and seriously injured, and the authorities have not yet found justice for him. Now, the authorities came to arrest him at night without a warrant. This is an illegal action,” said Ny Sokha, human rights monitoring director for the domestic NGO Adhoc.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after leader Kem Sokha’s arrest, for its role in opposition leader’s alleged scheme. The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.

Since then, the party’s members have fled into self-imposed exile to avoid what they say are politically motivated charges, or faced intimidation, arrest, and unprovoked attacks.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Tin Zakaria. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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