A former opposition commune chief in Kampong Speu province was arrested and detained on charges of incitement on Thursday in connection with her alleged involvement in the planned return of former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Sam Rainsy on November 9, 2019.
Kampong Speu provincial governor Vei Samnang told CamboJA on Friday that Kim Tola, former commune chief of Treng Trayoeng commune in Phnom Sruoch district, was arrested on Thursday based on a court warrant related to incitement to commit a felony that was allegedly committed on January 12, 2019.
“She was sent to detention at the provincial prison after she tested negative for COVID-19,” he said. Samnang added that the provincial court does not need to question her because she was sentenced to one year in prison and fined $500 on April 28, 2021.
Samnang alleged that the former commune chief was involved with Sam Rainsy’s plans to return to Cambodia on November 9, 2019, but he did not share any further details about this case. Rainsy was ultimately unable to return to Cambodia after being denied passage on a flight to Bangkok.
“We arrested only one person because she incited [to disturb the social security],” he said. Samnang told CamboJA that Tola should have been arrested in 2019, but she had fled to Thailand. He added that Cambodian authorities had been searching for her for a long time, and that Tola had been arrested at the first opportunity.
“We authorities have to try hard to maintain security and public order,” he said.
Kim Tola’s sister, 52-year-old Kim Setha, said that her sister had been arrested at a grocery shop in Treng Trayoeng commune. She said that her sister had already resigned from the now-dissolved opposition party.
“I think that my sister has not done anything wrong,” she said.
She said that her sister had fled to Thailand after the provincial court issued a warrant for her arrest, but that Tola had returned to Cambodia sometime before this Khmer New Year in April 2021.
Ny Sokha, president of human rights group Adhoc, said that the arrest of the former commune chief had to be understood in the context of a broader crackdown on members of the banned opposition party, with many of those arrested also charged with incitement or plotting.
“I think that this case is related to a political issue rather than a case that was implemented by law,” Sokha said.
He said that the arrest of former CNRP members is designed to warn other former party members and activists off of taking part in any kind of protest or participation in activities challenging the government.
“This is a picture to threaten their spirit to not oppose [the government],” he said. “If we still continue to threaten or torment political activists as well as human rights activists or environmental activists, I think that Cambodia will not receive benefits or receive a good reputation or honor from the international community.”
Sokha called on the government to solve the political and human rights issues, to achieve national unity, and to hold free, fair and just elections.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of human rights group Licadho, confirmed that Kim Tola had previously fled to Thailand to seek refuge and had returned to Cambodia recently.
“Persecution and intimidation of former opposition activists, especially the arrest of Kim Tola, is a restriction of fundamental … freedom of political rights in Cambodia,” he said. “International stakeholders also complain about the Cambodian government who abuses the political rights of those activists.”
He said that based on article 35 of the Cambodian Constitution, both men and women have the right to participate in political, social and economic aspects of the nation. Sam Ath suggested that Cambodian politicians create a culture of dialogue to find solutions for our nation rather than posting on social media and making arrests.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin denied that Tola’s arrest was political persecution, saying the important thing was whether or not they had violated the law.
“It might be that the court and the authorities have evidence to clarify that a crime happened, and then they arrest and charge,” he said. He referred any further questions to the provincial court. (Additional Reporting by Sam Sopich)