Cambodian Court Charges Activists Who Voiced Support For Opposition Chief Sam Rainsy With ‘Treason’

A court in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province on Tuesday charged two activists with the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) with treason after they posted messages of support for the return of acting party president Sam Rainsy from self-imposed exile.

Authorities arrested Ngin Sophat, the CNRP’s provincial secretary for Ratanakiri, and Thoeun Bunthorn, the CNRP’s head of operations for Ratanakiri’s Banlung city, on Sept. 21 amid a flurry of arrests targeting party members since Sam Rainsy announced that he plans to return to Cambodia on Nov. 9 to lead a restoration of democracy in the country.

Ratankiri Provincial Court spokesman Keo Peisoth on Tuesday confirmed to RFA’s Khmer Service that the two men, who are currently in detention awaiting trial, had been charged with plotting to cause serious unrest to society.

If the court doesn’t find that they committed any crimes, they will be released, he said.

The Phnom Penh Post quoted National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun as saying Monday that authorities had accused Ngin Sophat and Thoeun Bunthorn of galvanizing and joining a treasonous movement, adding that they had spread plans to go against the government and to overthrow [it], although he would not provide details about their actions.

He said that police were obliged to take strict measures against the accused and that the only people who should be worried are those involved with Sam Rainsy’s plans to return to Cambodia, which the government has labelled part of a coup against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

We have evidence and we would not arrest them without it, Kim Khoeun told the Post, adding that authorities have a video clip.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday, Ngin Sophat’s daughter, Ngin Kongkea, said police violently arrested her father and prevented his family from meeting with him.

I demand an investigation to provide justice to my father, she said, calling him innocent of the charges against him.

Why did the police arrest and jail my father? My mother and I don’t know what to do next.

Thoeun Bunthorn’s wife, Yann Nary, told RFA that her husband is a patriot who loves his family and has never committed a crime, adding that police had arrested him without any warrant.

Yann Nary said that authorities split my family in half ahead of the 15-day Pchum Ben religious festival, beginning on Sept. 27, and urged NGOs to help provide her with justice.

The police have not informed me about my husband’s whereabouts and they didn’t allow me to meet with him, she said, suggesting that police arbitrarily detained my husband.

Responding to family members’ concerns about being prevented from seeing Ngin Sophat and Thoeun Bunthorn, Keo Piseth suggested that they contact him if they want to see the accused.

Silencing activists

Cambodia’s Supreme Court banned the CNRP in November 2017 for its role in an alleged plot to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime, two months after police arrested CNRP President Kem Sokha and accused him of planning a coup. The opposition leader faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of treason, but no date has been set for his trial.

The moves against the political opposition, along with a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election. Hun Sen has been in power since 1985.

Authorities have stepped up harassment of CNRP activists and supporters since Sam Rainsy announced his plans to return to Cambodia, detaining 29 since the beginning of the year and subjecting at least 158 to interrogation over the same period.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of Cambodian rights group LICADHO, said the arrests are aimed at silencing activists, rather than upholding the law, adding that posting comments about politics is in line with the freedom of speech.

The authorities’ move is meant to prevent people from joining Sam Rainsy on his return, he said.

Am Sam Ath added that authorities had abused the rights of family members by preventing them from meeting with Ngin Sophat and Thoeun Bunthorn.

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