Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Police Arrests Two More Candlelight Officials for Alleged Document Forgery As Senate Election Nears

A Candlelight Party sign at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on April 4, 2022. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
A Candlelight Party sign at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on April 4, 2022. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

Two more Candlelight Party officials have been arrested for using forged documents to register people’s names without their consent to reserve them as candidates for councilor posts. The arrests bring the total number of opposition leader detention to four so far in January 2024.

According to an arrest warrant issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which was obtained by CamboJA, investigating judge Yi Sokvuoch ordered the arrest of Hak Kosal and Ma Chenda for allegedly forging and using forged documents in Phnom Penh last November.

Kosal holds the secretary post in the party’s Chroy Changvar district executive committee while Chenda is the deputy chief of the Daun Penh district executive committee.

Last month, acting Candlelight party chief of Phnom Penh Municipal Khem Chanvannak and Chhay Chenda, head of Russei Keo district women’s movement were placed under pretrial detention for the same charge.

Phnom Penh Municipal police chief Chuon Narin confirmed Kosal and Ma Chenda’s arrests. “[W]e followed the court warrant on the forgery of public documents, which is a criminal offense.”

Sam Vichhika, Phnom Penh Municipal police spokesperson, said Kosal and Ma Chenda were arrested at two separate locations – Chroy Changva and Sen Sok districts – on Wednesday.

“Both of them were involved in the forgery with acting Phnom Penh Candlelight party chief Khem Chanvannak whom we had arrested last week,” he said.

The two suspects have been sent to court for further questioning.

“They took down the names of three victims, forged fingerprints and signatures to register them as reserve candidates for the Candlelight Party council, Sangkat Phsar Thmei III, without the consent of those persons,” Vichhika said. 

He added that the police conducted investigations after receiving complaints from three victims, claiming their names were used as reserve candidates without consent, but declined to reveal the names of the complainants.

Candlelight Party president Teav Vannol condemned the arrest of the party officials, stating that it was an act of “intimidation” and attempting to break the spirit of citizens from engaging in political activities in the run-up to the Senate election.

“I think that they are threatening the democratic process in Cambodia before the Senate election,” he said. “The arrest will scare Candlelight activists from handing out election materials or participating in party activities.”

Both Kosal and Ma Chenda are registered as election observers for the party. The election will take place on February 25. 

Ruling party spokesperson Sok Eysan disagreed that the arrests of the opposition party members are politically-motivated or linked to the Senate election.

“It [the arrest] is not only [being made] on opposition party [members] but ruling party officials, who have violated the law. They have to face the law [too],” he said.

“This is not a threat,” Eysan said, adding that the arrest has nothing to do with the elections, but that they had indeed committed an offense. “Don’t use this as a pretext to twist reality.”

NGO rights group Licadho operation director Am Sam Ath alleged that the “same strategy” is being used to arrest opposition party members and activists in the run-up to the elections.

“We have seen these [before]; the arrests and detentions are politically-motivated rather than enforcing the law,” he said. “It’s a persecution and restriction on freedom and the political rights of citizens. There’ll be more criticism as political freedom becomes limited.”

Candlelight party secretary general Ly Sothearayuth told CamboJA that 12 party officials have been detained in prison since 2023. The arrests are linked to political activities, he said.

Both spokesperson of Phnom Penh Municipal court Y Rin and Plang Sophal could not be reached for comment.