PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Family members of former opposition officials were prevented from petitioning King Norodom Sihamoni requesting the release of their jailed family members, including four people arrested outside the Chinese Embassy during a Paris Peace Agreement day protest.
Family members of former Cambodia National Rescue Party officials have been protesting and demanding the release of their relatives every Friday for the last four months. They were also requesting the release of four of their colleagues, who were arrested in late October for protesting outside the Chinese Embassy.
On Friday, Daun Penh district security guards dispersed around 20 protesters outside the Royal Palace, asking them to instead go to the National Assembly because King Norodom Sihamoni had left the country for a health checkup in China.
Cheng Sreyny, the wife of Ton Nimol who was arrested on October 23, said she was disappointed that not a single official from the Royal Palace came out to receive their petition. She maintained that her husband was innocent and wanted him released from prison.
“I think that only the King can help us, which is why we decided to come to the Royal Palace,” Sreyny said.
Lim San, Ton Nimol, Yoy Sreymom and Sat Pha were arrested on October 23 and charged with incitement for the protest outside the Chinese Embassy. The protests were against a potential Chinese military presence on Cambodian soil and was violently dispersed by local security personnel.
Prom Thantha, the wife of former CNRP member Kak Komphea, who was convicted last year for conspiracy to insult and incite crimes, said the protestors abandoned plans to submit their petition to the Royal Palace after they were blocked by Daun Penh security guards.
“It is unreasonable because even if the King is not present they have officials at Royal Palace who work there,” Thantha said. “I think that they do not want the King to hear our case, which is why they have ignored our petition.”
The group was then blocked from marching to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court because it would impact social order and were instead asked to use tuk-tuks.
When the same group was protesting near the Phnom Penh court in September, a Prampi Makara security guard violently flung one of the protestors and injured her. The protestors have routinely been met with forceful measures, and occasional violence, used by district security guards to disperse them.
The King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother left the country on October 6 for a medical check-up in China. Oum Daravuth, advisor to the Queen Mother’s secretariat, said that he was unaware of the case and referred all questions to the Ministry of Royal Palace, where officials could not be reached on Friday.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said the protesters were not seeking legitimate legal recourse but had a political agenda behind their protests.
“The submitting of petitions in previous times was a political show which is held by organizations,” he said. “It isn’t a legal measure to defend the defendants according to the law.”
Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group Licadho, said the arrest of former CNRP officials was a political issue and should be resolved through political means.
“In my opinion, the only one way to settle these issues is for all politicians to negotiate to ease the political situation and for those jailed to be released on bail,” he said.
There have been dozens of former CNRP officials questioned, detained and released since the party was dissolved in 2017. On November 3, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court summoned nearly 60 ex-CNRP members, including nine former lawmakers, for alleged plotting charges. They are expected to appear at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on November 26, even though many are in exile or hiding.