A former opposition official was arrested and charged over the weekend for violating the Supreme Court’s 2017 decision to dissolve the main opposition party and ban him and more than 100 others from any political activities – marking the first time someone has been officially charged for defying the order.
Kampot provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith said on Monday that Nuth Pich, 63, a former deputy district chief for the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), had been arrested and sent to prison on Saturday.
Chanmathurith declined to elaborate the nature of Pich’s alleged offenses and referred a reporter to a court warrant issued in May.
According to the warrant, issued on May 17 by Investigating Judge Y Kheang, the farmer had “disrespected” the Supreme Court decision and committed incitement by “gathering people to commit a felony” in April.
Former CNRP vice president Mu Sochua alleged that Pich had been tortured for a confession during his police interrogation in Kampot over the weekend and called for his immediate release.
“They shaved the hair off his head following an interrogation at the Kampot police station before sending him to Kampot prison,” Sochua said. “Shaving his head means he must have refused to admit guilt.”
“This is mental torture and dehumanizing. We demand his immediate release and an independent investigation,” she added.
Chanmathurith, the police chief, denied torturing Pich and said it was merely a rule in the prison that inmates had their hair cut.
“Nobody tortured him or shaved his head, it was just a haircut that everyone has to have,” Chanmathurith said.
The Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in 2017 for supposedly trying overthrow the government, simultaneously banning 118 members of the party from political activities for five years.
CNRP has denied the allegations, and its dissolution eight months before a national election has been criticized by international observers as having obstructed a fair vote.
According to Human Rights Watch, a total of 147 former CNRP officials have been questioned by authorities and the courts this year for alleged violations of the Supreme Court decision. Pich is the first to be arrested.