Former opposition party members, Kung Raiya and two others, who quit ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and fled to Thailand have been arrested by Thai authorities on February 2, 2024, a week before Prime Minister Hun Manet’s visit on February 7.
Sieng Sothea, a former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker, who lives in Thailand as a refugee, confirmed with CamboJA that Thai authorities nabbed Raiya and Phan Phana in their rental room on that day. Loem Sokha was arrested on the street. The three refugees have been sent to Suan Plu Immigration Detention Center.
Sothea said the reason for Raiya and Phana’s arrest is allegedly related to allegations of “breach of trust” as both had a contract to defect from Candlelight Party to join Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). They were also given roles in the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Sokha was detained for allegedly participating in an activity with former CNRP activists in Japan.
“We received information from CPP officials that there was a plan to arrest Phana and Raiya who were jointly accused for breach of trust,” he said.
In June last year, Raiya, a prominent Candlelight Party commune councilor, announced that he would join the CPP. A video by government-aligned Fresh News showed Raiya submitting a letter to join the CPP based on former PM Hun Sen’s clear vision, leadership and policies. These apparently led the country to achieve peace, prosperity and development nationwide.
However, a month later, he fled to Thailand due to fear and was concerned about his safety after he decided to leave the CPP and resign as an advisor with the Education Ministry.
Sothea shared that the UNHCR lawyer and Cambodian government lawyer might meet on February 6 to discuss this matter.
In an email to CamboJA, Morgane Roussel-Hemery, associate external relations officer of UNHCR in Thailand, replied that they are “not in a position to comment on the details or confirm the existence of individual cases for protection and confidentiality reasons”.
According to Sothea, Raiya and Phana have already been granted asylum in a safe third country while Sokha is still seeking asylum in Thailand.
Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, said the crackdown on Cambodian refugees in Thailand is to “please” the Cambodian government, which is a practice of the Thai government.
“Rounding up UN-recognized refugees to please Hun Manet ahead of his visit to Bangkok next week is hardly the best way for Thailand to persuade the international community it deserves a seat on the UN Human Rights Council,” he added.
He commented that the Thai authorities should release refugees Phan Phana, Kung Raiya, and Loem Sokha, and their families, and cease the crackdown on Cambodian rights and democracy activists who have fled to Thailand.
The Thai authorities should not cooperate with Cambodia in the alleged expansion of transnational repression efforts, Robertson said.
Candlelight party secretary-general Ly Sothearayuth declined to comment.
Touch Sokhak, spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior, declined to comment and referred CamboJA to government spokesperson Pen Bona.
However, Bona did not respond to CamboJA when asked whether the arrest was ordered by the Cambodian government. Instead, he said, every country has its own laws, so when people live in their country illegally or break the law, the authorities will take action and arrest them.
“Those who try to accuse the government of persecuting them, use it as an excuse to seek political asylum in a third country,” he said.
“When they can’t go to a third country, they live in Thailand as illegal immigrants. So, the authorities will arrest those who live illegally in Thailand.”
The Cambodian embassy in Thailand and Thai embassy in Cambodia failed to reply to questions.
Keo Vannthan, Immigration Department spokesperson told CamboJA that the case was not within his jurisdiction. He referred CamboJA to National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun, who could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Sothea said, although the refugees were arrested before Hun Manet’s visit to Thailand, they allegedly had a plan to protest against the premier’s trip there.
“We are now gathering people to protest against the violation of human rights, freedom of expression and democracy,” he said. “I’m not afraid because I already know that even though we escaped to Thailand, they can arrest us anytime. It’s not safe but it’s only a threat. They just threaten us not to protest against Hun Manet in Thailand on February 7, 2024.”