Banteay Meanchey Court charged six Candlelight party officials with incitement and fraud and sent them to the provincial prison on Thursday evening, according to party spokesperson and NGO Licadho.
Six Candlelight Party officials were sent to pre-trial detention after being charged under Article 494-495 and Article 377-378 of the criminal code, according to a Friday statement from human rights NGO Licadho. The charges carry between six months and two years in prison and fines of one million to four million riel ($242 to $967).
“The basis for the criminal charges has not been confirmed,” Licadho stated.
Banteay Meanchey court spokesperson Reoun Lyna could not be reached for comment and Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison Director Ung Siphan declined to comment.
The six charged officials were among the 23 Candlelight Party members who were detained and questioned by police in Banteay Meanchey on September 9 for allegedly lying to people while collecting thumbprints to form a new political party. Candlelight was barred from participating in the July elections.
The next day, 17 detainees were released after signing a document swearing they were not involved in the offense. Most serve as commune councilors.
Of the six in detention and facing charges, four served in higher-level party positions: Provincial Candlelight Party Chief Sin Vatha, his deputy Long Lavy, Mongkol Borei District Candlelight Party Chief Tuot Veasna, and his deputy Chum Sinath. Commune Councillor Van Suy Iv and activist Tep Sambath Mono also remain detained for questioning, according to Licadho.
Candlelight Party spokesperson Kimsour Phirith confirmed the officials’ arrest and charges, adding they were receiving legal support but could not provide further information yet.
Phirith said the case was similar to other instances in which authorities arrest and charge officials from the opposition party with incitements and added that nothing causing chaos in society, as the criminal code describes incitement, had occurred.
“It’s not much different from the previous ones, just that the arrests and charges are all incitements of unrest. And of course, so far we have not seen anything that has caused society to be chaotic because of politics,” he said.
Candlelight issued a statement on Thursday denouncing any members who lied or engaged in deceitful activity but did not specifically mention the allegations facing the party’s Banteay Meanchey officials.
Under sections 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s criminal code, incitement is expansively defined as committing harmful speech distributed to the public or in gatherings, and has regularly been applied to activists and perceived dissidents.
Under section 377 and 378 of the criminal code, “fraud” can carry up a three year prison sentence.
Licadho Operations Director Am Sam Ath said the latest charges against Candlelight officials further eroded the space for political opposition.
“This indictment and detention lead to criticism that it is more of a political issue than law enforcement,” he noted.
He added that the international community and European Union always call for openness of political freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of association, civil society, and fundamental freedoms of citizens. He called for the government to free all detained activists and political opposition members.
“And as we have seen, after the election until now, there has been a lot of criticism that the human rights situation in Cambodia does not seem to be improving,” he said.