Cambodia authorities detain high-ranking opposition member

Police arrest Candlelight Party VP Thach Setha on charges of issuing bad checks, which he denies.
By RFA Khmer
2023.01.17
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Cambodia authorities detain high-ranking opposition member Thach Setha [left], vice president of Cambodia’s opposition Candlelight Party, hugs a boy in front of the Prey Sar main prison outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 10, 2021.
Credit: Associated Press

Cambodian authorities arrested the Vice President of the opposition Candlelight Party Thach Setha on Monday, accusing him of issuing false checks from his bank account.

Thach Setha has denied the allegations. In response, the Candlelight Party issued a statement condemning the arrest and what it called “a wave of intimidation and threat against the opposition party's leaders and activists recently by the people who have power."

"Candlelight Party regards Thach Setha's arrest and detention as a politically motivated case as an intimidation to scare Cambodian's spirits not to participate with the opposition party and to provoke chaos ahead of the 2023 general election,” the statement said.  

“The Candlelight Party appeals to the government and the Phnom Penh Municipality Court to release Thach Setha to his freedom immediately without any conditions,” it said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled since 1985, has repeatedly threatened to use the country’s courts to target his political opponents, recently forcing an opposition advisor to relinquish his home after the threat of lawsuits. 

A spokesperson for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which issued the detention order, said that the court received a complaint in 2019 from the Rin Chhay pawn shop alleging that Thach Setha gave five bad checks at the store. 

Thach Setha claims that while he did begin filling out five checks, he never dated or signed them. A local lawyer in Cambodia who has represented other opposition members targeted by authorities said that the checks have no legal value since they were never signed. 

Son Chhay, another vice president of the Candlelight Party, said that he will reach out to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to see if there is a resolution to the political impasse.

But CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San denounced the opposition’s response, claiming that the court’s actions against the Candlelight Party were not politically motivated. 

"The CPP can't negotiate because there is no political tension. The case is at the court's hands,” he said. “Political parties have no role to try court cases.”

Political analyst Em Sovannara told RFA that the courts brought up the case from 2019 to pressure the opposition, adding that the Candlelight Party does not really have any bargaining power with the CPP to demand a release.

Seng Sary, another Cambodian political commentator, said that the CPP’s efforts would backfire in the upcoming  July 2023 election. "People hate injustice. It [the ruling party] will lose its popularity. In 2023 people can prosecute parties through their votes.”

Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Nawar Nemeh and Malcolm Foster.

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