Cambodian authorities should stop pressuring neighbouring governments to harass, intimidate, arrest and detain Cambodian citizens with links to the outlawed political opposition, Amnesty International said today (7 November).
Sam Rainsy (center) holding a bouquet of flowers
“The last few days have seen a wave of brazen harassment and intimidation of Cambodians throughout the region. It is appalling that Hun Sen’s government is trying to co-opt regional neighbours to collude in this blatant abuse,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East and South East Asia regional director.
Several members of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have been detained or threatened across the region in recent days, including in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Mu Sochua, deputy leader of the CNRP and a dual Cambodia-US citizen, was detained for most of the day by the Malaysian authorities upon arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport this morning. She was later released.
Ngoeum Keatha and Heng Seang Leang, two other Cambodian citizens, were detained by the Malaysian authorities since Monday. After days of uncertainty regarding their possible deportation to Cambodia, where they faced certain serious human rights violations, it was announced that they would also be released by the Malaysian authorities.
“The Malaysian authorities have ultimately done the right thing – but the three should never have been detained in the first place. Other ASEAN states must follow suit and refuse to collude in Cambodia’s human rights abuses,” said Nicholas Bequelin.
According to documents seen by Amnesty International, the Cambodian authorities yesterday arbitrarily revoked the passports of 12 Cambodian citizens affiliated with the CNRP.
Amnesty International has received further reports that Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand have been subject to increased surveillance and intimidation in recent days. On 6 November, in Thailand’s Samut Prakan province, a group of 60 or so Cambodians was dispersed by Thai police and two individuals were arrested and interrogated for hours before being later released. On 4 November, in Pathum Thani province, a dozen police surrounded the house of a Cambodian man, though he had already fled his home.
On 6 November, before flying to Malaysia, Mu Sochua was addressing a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, when the Cambodia ambassador to Indonesia disrupted the event and called for her arrest. In October, Mu Sochua was also denied entry to Thailand by Thai immigration officials, after the Cambodian authorities issued warrants for the arrest of CNRP leaders to fellow ASEAN states.
The Cambodian authorities have taken other steps to thwart the return of CNRP leaders. On 1 November, the Cambodian civil aviation authority threatened airlines with prosecution for supporting “a coup d’état” should they allow Sam Rainsy, the acting leader of the CNRP, to board a flight to Cambodia.
Earlier today, Sam Rainsy was denied checking in to a flight from Paris to Bangkok. Yesterday, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said that Rainsy would not be allowed to re-enter Cambodia via Thailand.
This spate of intimidation, harassment, arrests and other threats follows a pledge by Sam Rainsy, who resides in France, to return to Cambodia this Saturday 9 November. The CNRP have called for mass demonstrations on the same day. In response, the Cambodian authorities have labelled the planned return an attempted coup d’état and undertaken a heavy-handed crackdown against individuals affiliated with the CNRP.
Since August, when Rainsy made this pledge, at least 45 former CNRP members have been jailed and 92 have been subject to politically-motivated charges including “plotting against the state” and “attack” for allegedly supporting the return to Cambodia of CNRP leaders living abroad. Arrests have typically been conducted without due process and in the absence of arrest warrants.
The ongoing crackdown has already had deadly consequences in Cambodia. On 30 October, Sam Bopha, a CNRP activist, was killed while in police custody after being arrested at her home in Svay Rieng province. Another CNRP activist, Tith Rorn, died in detention soon after he was arbitrarily arrested in April. No independent investigation into the circumstances of his death has yet been carried out, despite the presence of injuries on his body consistent with beating.
These recent developments have been accompanied by the militarisation of Cambodian border provinces, while Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has publicly ordered the military to attack any opposition gatherings that are held on 9 November. Live-fire military exercises and troop deployments in towns and cities adjacent to the Thai border have further contributed to significant concerns about the potential for violence on 9 November.
CNRP President Kem Sokha remains detained on charges of “conspiracy with a foreign power” since his arrest in 2017. After spending one year in a maximum-security prison, he was transferred to house arrest under highly restrictive conditions in September 2018.