Police detained Khmer Win Party President Soung Sophorn on August 14 for allegedly distorting information related to border issues, bringing the total to 13 activists arrested while protesting for the release of imprisoned union leader Rong Chhun.
Two more activists were charged with incitement after they were arrested along with four others for protesting in support of Chhun outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Courthouse on August 13, an event that Sophorn also attended.
On August 10, Sophorn and eight members of his party had traveled to Tbong Khmum province where they visited more than 30 villagers who showed them the disputed border posts that Chhun had visited in July.
Chhun was arrested on July 31 and charged with incitement to disturb social security the following day based on remarks he made in an interview with Radio Free Asia saying that Vietnamese soldiers have placed border posts 500 meters into Cambodian territory and expelled villagers from their land.
In a video post on his Facebook page on August 10, Sophorn defended his actions.
“First, I came to visit people as I am a politician,” he said. “Second, I came to see the territorial sovereignty, whether it is being upheld, and whether it as [the villagers] said, if they lost [land] or not.”
“As I said, if it is related to sovereignty, I do not have any comments, and we doubted whether we should take measures to talk with the government or relevant ministries and if we should review that issue [border affairs],” Sophorn said in the video post.
National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Kheoun said August 14 that Sophorn was arrested in the afternoon for incitement.
“He was arrested for committing a red-handed crime because he has disseminated information amount to incitement related to border issues,” he said, adding that Sophorn is still being questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters.
Municipal Court spokesman Kuch Kimlong confirmed that Sophorn was still being detained for questioning.
“Soung Sophorn was arrested red-handed for the crime of incitement to distort information on border issues and he has accused the Cambodia Border Affairs Committee of committing treason,” Kimlong said via Telegram messenger.
Khmer Win Party spokesman Yin Chhoeun said that Sophorn’s arrest was “politically motivated,” noting that police officials had arrested him without showing a warrant.
“Soung Sophorn didn’t accuse anyone of losing territory because he had just doubted [the claims] and needed to verify information from [national] authorities,” he said.
“The arrest is entirely politically motivated,” Chhoeun said. “[They are] breaking the spirit of a person who has concerns about the border and has protested against the government,” he said.
Chhoeun said that Sophorn did not distort facts because he had received details directly from villagers who said they had previously cultivated a plot of land that they now did not have access to after several border demarcation posts were allegedly moved.
“He has just raised up what villages said. It is the villagers’ dispute that politicians need to address, but he was arrested by the government,” he said. “We are very regretful of the arrest.”
The previous day, police arrested six other demonstrators who were part of a group of 30 who were protesting outside the municipal court where Chhun was being questioned by the investigating judge over his activities at the border.
Sophorn also attended the protest, which briefly turned violent when a scuffle broke out with district security guards, leaving several protesters with slight injuries.
“It is our right granted by the law that public citizens and supporters have the right to monitor,” Sophorn said outside the court the day before his arrest. “We have to stand up and struggle for what is guaranteed in the law.”
Court spokesman Kimlong said two of the arrested, Chhoeun Daravy and Hun Vannak, were charged on August 14 with incitement to disturb social security under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code and had been placed in pre-trial detention.
The four who weren’t charged were released after they were “educated” and signed a contract promising to stop protesting in support of Chhun, police said.
So Meta, another activist who participated in the protest on August 13, said she saw five plainclothes officers grab Daravy’s hair and beat her before pushing her into an SUV at 3pm. After the protest had ended, Meta and the other activists returned to Daravy’s house in Por Senchey district’s Samroang Kroam commune, where they were met by about 50 police officials at 4pm at which point Vannak and four others were arrested.
“I think that it is a violation of human rights that they are arresting people who have not done anything illegal,” she said.
National Police spokesman Kim Khoeun said officers had released the other four activists.
“We do not have evidence to accuse them, we have just educated them and asked them to stop protesting,” he said.
He added that Daravy was arrested following a warrant and Vannak was arrested as court officials were carrying out a search warrant on Daravy’s house.
Chak Sopheap, executive director at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the police response to demonstrations in support of Chhun is unjustified.
“Authorities have responded with violence and intimidation, in brazen violation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, which is enshrined in both national and international human rights law,” she said.
She added that searching the activist’s home was an act of intimidation.
“The investigating judge subsequently issued a warrant to search Ms. Chheun Daravy’s house to collect further evidence, which is seemingly irrelevant to her charge, and serves to intimidate her, her family and other potential activists,” she said.
“This affront to freedom of assembly reflects the RGC’s ongoing and blatant disrespect for human rights.”