A fourth activist was arrested for incitement and placed in pre-trial detention for taking part in a protest outside the Chinese Embassy on October 23 calling for the Cambodian government to respect the Paris Peace Agreements and oppose the Chinese military presence.
Three CNRP supporters who were arrested during the protest have already been charged with incitement, police and court officials said.
Boeng Kak land rights activist Sat Pha, who was among dozens of protesters who attempted to submit a petition at the embassy, was arrested while leaving the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital on October 27 after being treated for injuries sustained during the protest.
During the demonstration, district security officials shoved her to the ground and violently stomped on her leg while she was trying to help the others who were being apprehended.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Sar Thet confirmed the arrest.
“We arrested her yesterday for the same accusation of incitement,” he said.
“I do not know how many more will be arrested, but when they come out to break the law, we will enforce the law,” Thet said, before declining to comment further.
National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun confirmed that Pha was arrested for incitement following a court warrant, and is now being detained at Prey Sar prison.
He said that more people would be arrested if they committed the same crime.
“For others, if they abusethe law, they will be arrested,” Kim Khoeun said.
On Sunday, three people linked to the CNRP who had participated in Friday’s protests — Lim San, Ton Nimol and Yoy Sreymom — were charged with incitement and sent to pretrial detention, according to Municipal Court spokesman Kuch Kimlong.
In a speech on October 27, Prime Minister Hun Sen also took direct aim at former CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann and his family, threatening their safety after accusing Vann of facilitating the protest outside the embassy.
“Vann, if you can stop this, do it. Your wife and children are living in Phnom Penh,” Hun Sen said. “Be careful, your wife and children will not sleep well. Do not push your wife and children into prison.”
As for the measures taken against the CNRP activists and Pha, senior opposition official Meach Sovannara said it amounted to “individual political revenge” rather than an attempt to carry out the law, noting that Hun Sen had often expressed his dissatisfaction with CNRP acting President Sam Rainsy.
“I want to send a message to the head of government: Please do not take revenge on individuals and destroy other people who have just exercised their basic freedoms,” he said.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the arrest of Pha and other CNRP members at the demonstration on Friday was another example of the government’s “sustained attack” against the opposition.
“Three years after the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, both its members and perceived or actual affiliates continue to be targeted by the Royal Government of Cambodia,” she said in an email. “Reports that Ms. Sat Pha, a CNRP activist, was arrested multiple days after her participation in a peaceful assembly last Friday … recently surfaced, exemplifying the sustained attack the political opposition has faced these last few years.
“Instead of attempting to quell opposition and criticism, the RGC should be reminded of its duty to respect, protect and fulfill the fundamental freedoms of assembly and association,” Sopheap added.
In a separate case, a former CNRP member in Koh Kong province was sentenced to five years in prison last week for his alleged involvement in Rainsy’s 2019 bid to return to Cambodia from exile in France, which the government claims was an attempt by the opposition leader to overthrow the government.
Rin Seiha, the provincial court clerk in charge of the case, said Hum Srea had been sentenced to five years in prison for plotting.
“The court sentenced him to five years and also issued a warrant to arrest him,” Seiha said.
She added that she does not know whether the defendant was still in Koh Kong, and declined to comment further.
Un Sovantheany, court spokesman and a deputy prosecutor in Srea’s case, said last year that the former CNRP activist had been released on bail in November 2019 after he was detained for 10 days. He could not be reached for comment.
Srea’s wife Leng Srey Oun, 36, said she did not attend the verdict announcement in her husband’s case and that he had been in Thailand for more than a month due to fears of arrest.
“I am concerned about my husband’s safety and security because if he comes to Cambodia, he will be arrested again,” she continued.
“I request the court, please do not punish him and please release him,” she said. “It is unjust for my husband because he has done nothing wrong.”
Cambodian courts are currently processing cases against nearly 70 former CNRP members for plotting, and have already convicted 12 besides Srea this year for their alleged links to the attempted return of Rainsy in November 2019.
As the persecution of dissident groups and former opposition members has escalated, some ex-CNRP officials have gone into hiding and others have fled Cambodia. Dozens more are awaiting trial, some behind bars, and others have already received hefty sentences.
Sam Sokong, a defense lawyer for the former CNRP members, said that about 80 party members have been processed at courts in eight provinces and Phnom Penh this year on charges of plotting to commit an attack under Article 453 of the Criminal Code, which carries a prison term of five to 10 years. Twenty-eight more have been scheduled for a hearing, 24 of whom are in pre-trial detention.
Sokong said October 28, that Srea’s sentence would not be considered heavy if he had committed the crime, but in this case, the court did not have enough evidence to prove the former CNRP member’s plotting charge.
“So the court’s decision to sentence him to five years in prison is unjust because he did not commit the crime as stated in the charge,” Sokong said.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of human rights group Licadho, said that although Srea was charged last year, recent political exchanges between Hun Sen and Rainsy had resurrected the same issues.
“According to my monitoring, in these cases where the accused is sentenced to five or seven years in prison, they will be arrested and detained again,” Sam Ath said.
He said politicians should unite to find a solution that is in the best interest of all citizens.
“I think that they must find a political resolution,” he said. “Please, all politicians, stop causing the people to suffer instead of you.”