Police arrest 3 Cambodian opposition party members

'This is a threat' ahead of May 26 elections, a party official says.
By RFA Khmer
Police arrest 3 Cambodian opposition party members Sun Chanthy, standing, addresses political supporters in Japan, May 4, 2024.
Sun Chanthy via Facebook

Updated May 10, 2024, 03:51 p.m. EDT.

Cambodian authorities arrested three opposition party members on Thursday — one leader from a new party and two members of an older party — ahead of a range of elections on May 26, activists told Radio Free Asia.

Sun Chanthy, 44, president of the National Power Party, formed last year, was questioned by police after being arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport upon his return from Japan, where he addressed Cambodian supporters.

Charged with incitement, he was detained at Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters.

On Friday evening, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge ordered authorities to transfer him to a remote prison in Pursat province's Phnom Kravanh district for allegedly "inciting serious social security unrest."

According to a statement from the Ministry of Justice, the charge stemmed from a social media comment Sun Chanthy made that criticized the government’s policy on issuing "poverty cards," or IDs for the poor to receive free medical treatment or subsidies. It said he had "twisted information" to suggest that the cards would only be distributed to those who join the ruling Cambodian People's Party, or CPP.

Chea Mony, vice president of the National Power Party, traveled with Sun Chanthy to Japan and witnessed Thursday's arrest, saying it had to do with upcoming provincial, municipal, district and Khan council elections.

Chea Mony said that during the visit to Japan, Sun Chanthy did not make political statements that would have disrupted Cambodia's social order or national security.

“There was no effect on national security according to accusations by the court,” Chea Mony told Radio Free Asia. “The council election is coming. We don’t need to explain, [but] this is a threat ahead of the election.”

“This is a repeated action to scare the pro-democrats,” he said. “The party doesn’t have any plans to incite anyone.”

New party

The National Power Party was formed in 2023 by breakaway members of the Candlelight Party, the main political organization opposing the government under the CPP. 

The CPP has ruled the country since 1979, often arresting political opposition members on politically motivated charges ahead of elections to ensure its own politicians retain power or win new seats in contested areas.

In response to the arrest, the National Power Party issued a statement calling on the government of Prime Minister Hun Manet to release Sun Chanthy without any conditions and to restore political space so that the party can participate in the democratic process.

Adhoc staffers Ny Sokha, (foreground, C), Yi Soksan, (rear C) and Nay Vanda  arrive at an appeals court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 13, 2016. (Heng Sinith/AP)
Adhoc staffers Ny Sokha, (foreground, C), Yi Soksan, (rear C) and Nay Vanda arrive at an appeals court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 13, 2016. (Heng Sinith/AP)

In the arrest warrant issued on May 7, Chreng Khmao, prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, ordered police to bring Sun Chanthy to the internal security office of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police before May 23 for questioning on the “incitement” charge.

But the warrant didn’t mention what Sun Chanthy said during his Japan visit that brought about the charge.

On Friday, Sun Chanthy's wife, Yean Srey Yan, told RFA that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had prohibited her from visiting her husband in detention.

She called his arrest a "political threat" to those fighting for democracy and the national interests. She demanded that the court release him because he was simply expressing his views as a politician and said the government should be "open to criticism from all people." 

"My husband and I won't be made afraid," she said. "This arrest shows the Cambodia [government] is threatening politicians who love the country by charging them with various crimes." 

Yean Srey Yan said she was traveling to see her husband in Pursat Prison.

Attempts by RFA to contact the prosecutor in Sun Chanthy's case and Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Plang Sophal for further clarification went unanswered Friday.

Candlelight Party members arrested

Also on Thursday, police arrested two members of the Candlelight Party in Kampong Cham province — Dum Khun, second deputy head of Ampil commune in Kampong Siem district in Kampong Cham province, and Sim Sam On, commune councilor of Ampil — said former Candlelight Party leader Ly Kim Heang.

They were detained by Kampong Cham provincial police, she said, adding that authorities provided no reason for their arrest and prevented family members from visiting the two men.

On Friday, authorities released both of the men. RFA was unable to reach Kampong Cham Police Chief Heng Vuthy for comment on their detention and subsequent release.

Speaking after being freed, Sim Sam On told RFA that authorities had accused him of "using a motorbike that was bought without paying tax," but let him go after questioning him.

“I am worried about my security to be able to continue my political activities in the community,” he said.

The Candlelight Party had issued a statement following their arrest which suggested that it constituted a threat aimed at eliminating legitimate political activities, and called for their release.

Since the beginning of 2024, more than 10 members of the Candlelight Party have been detained by authorities, including six officials from Kampong Cham province. 

Ny Sokha, president of Adhoc, Cambodia’s oldest human rights group, warned that the government's reputation would deteriorate and that it would face more pressure from the international community if it continued to arrest opposition party members. 

“This will affect the government’s reputation on the world stage,” he said.

Translated by Yun Samean for RFA Khmer. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

This story has been updated with details about Sun Chanthy's case, comments by his wife, and information about the release of Dum Khun and Sim Sam On.


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