Six former opposition party officials were reportedly arrested on Friday and Saturday by the National Police, according to the party, a rights group and a ruling party spokesman, though a police spokesman denied the arrests.
A statement issued by the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said the six activists arrested were Tum Bunthan, Ly Mengkheang, Ly Lin, Chhun Thaiyuth, Yat Phearum and You Chantheany.
The statement appealed to the government for their release, and asked that both the international community and Cambodian people pressure the government to release members of the dissolved party who are in jail as well as party president Kem Sokha, who is under de facto house arrest in Phnom Penh.
Soeng Senkaruna, spokesman at rights group Adhoc, said the arrests appeared to be related to support for the promised return of party co-founder Sam Rainsy, who is living in exile in France, on November 9.
Three of the activists were arrested in Kandal province, while one each was arrested in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey, Senkaruna said.
“It is a restriction of the rights of former activists and members of opposition CNRP, and it is not a solution for the nation,” he said, arguing that recent actions by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party would divide the country.
“It will cause a breaking up of the nation between Khmer and Khmer as the ruling CPP keeps an eye on the former opposition party,” he said.
The Constitution gives Cambodians the right to participate in politics and free expression, he said.
“We observe that the arrests are politically motivated rather than an implementation of the judicial system,” Senkaruna said. “Those people have used their rights as stipulated in the constitution and international conventions on human rights.”
The actions were undemocratic, and the government had “used its power to attack its opponents,” he said.
Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath said the heavy-handed tactics could be seen by international observers as an “over-reaction.”
“It will damage the reputation of the government, since the international [community] has been watching the situation in Cambodia,” he said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police chief Sar Thet acknowledged that a man was arrested in Tuol Kork district’s Phsar Depot commune II, but would not elaborate, saying only that “we arrested him according to a court arrest warrant and he has been sent to the court following procedures.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said police had arrested people who are violated the Supreme Court order dissolving the CNRP.
“They have arrested people who have broken the law and people who have violated the Supreme Court verdict,” he said.
However, National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun denied that any former opposition members had been arrested over the weekend.
“I do not have any report related to the arrest of former opposition members,” Lieutenant General Kim Khoeun said, declining to comment further.
Meanwhile, an audio recording that was circulated on Saturday appears to show Interior Minister Sar Kheng ordering officials across the country to keep an eye on former CNRP activists in the lead-up to next week’s Pchum Ben festival, saying they were planning to gather at pagodas.
“I would like to inform all the governors of Phnom Penh and the provinces that the rebel group has asked their people to visit pagodas during Pchum Ben, and it is a chance for them to meet up to discuss and lay out their dark plan,” he said, ordering officers to go to pagodas to monitor the situation.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday said the government would request all Asean member states to arrest and extradite Rainsy if he entered their territories upon his attempted return to Cambodia.
In March, Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued multiple arrest warrants against Rainsy and seven others in the party for plotting and incitement for after they met in the U.S. earlier in the year.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Kuch Kimlong said the court was still working on that case. “We are following the procedure and when the court has made a decision, I will tell you,” he said.