Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Land rights activist flees Cambodia, saying she received death threat

Sat Pha records a protest in front of the French Embassy on Facebook live, Picture taken February 4, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Sat Pha records a protest in front of the French Embassy on Facebook live, Picture taken February 4, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Land rights activist Sat Pha, who was convicted of incitement last August in relation to a protest one year earlier outside the Chinese embassy, has fled Cambodia saying a death threat was posted on her door in Phnom Penh.

Pha was released in November with several other activists after serving a year in pre-trial detention and prison. Since her release, the former prisoner of conscience had been active in protesting the charges against Cambodian-American lawyer Seng Theary. Theary, an activist, is one of 139 supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who are being tried, en masse, for plotting to overthrow the government — charges rights monitors maintain are politically motivated.

“Upon my release from prison, I continue to struggle to fight injustice and have received verbal threats, including a death threat posted on my front door,” she told CamboJA via text message.

 Pha said that she left Phnom Penh on Sunday and entered Thailand through an illegal crossing in Banteay Meanchey province.

“I am worried about my personal security if I remain in Cambodia,” she said. She added that she hopes the UN Refugee Agency can provide her with asylum status and find a third country for resettlement as she may face security threats in Thailand too.

A photo shared by Pha showed a note reading: “If you are still strong, be careful of disappearing.”

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said he knew nothing of the death threat and suggested that perhaps the activist had forged the note.

“We do not know if it is true or not, related to the note posted,” he said.

“There are no death threats, and what would she have been threatened for because she wasn’t involved to commit or impact [national] security,” Sopheak said, noting that she already had been convicted and imprisoned.

“It might be her trick that she has posted herself to seek political asylum,” he said.

Sat Pha rests with migrant workers after arriving at the Thai border on April 17, 2022. Photo supplied
Sat Pha rests with migrant workers after arriving at the Thai border on April 17, 2022. Photo supplied

Pha denied the allegation, saying it was unsurprising a ruling party official would suggest it.

“I believe that because he is a CPP official, he will say that because he has never accepted their mistake.” 

Am Sam Ath, operation director at rights group Licadho, called on the authorities to thoroughly investigate the threat.

“We beg authorities to investigate and find out the truth for the victim to avoid an accusation of politically motivation or political discrimination,” he said.

He noted that harassment of former opposition activists and supporters is not uncommon and that authorities rarely investigate.

In August 2021, Pha was sentenced to 12 months in prison along with nine others who protested outside the Chinese embassy in October 2020, calling for the Cambodian government to respect the Paris Peace Agreement and oppose a Chinese military presence.

A longtime activist, Pha was among the thousands of families evicted from the Boeung Kak lake area to make way for the development project of  Shukaku Inc.

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