Three more opposition activists have been charged over a violent anti-government protest last year, with police swooping in less than 48 hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen demanded more arrests in the case.
Yea Thong, 23, yesterday became the third person arrested following the premier’s speech on Monday afternoon, with officers detaining Yon Kimhour, 28, and Roeun Chetra, 33, on Tuesday night.
The trio is among five people named in an arrest warrant issued by Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Keo Mony on Tuesday.
The writ came shortly after Hun Sen demanded action against the “cruel attackers” and singled out one woman in particular as an “animal”.
Police are still seeking the remaining suspects, including a woman.
Mony, who yesterday questioned the group for seven hours in the presence of their defence lawyers, said they were charged by the municipal court’s prosecutor with joining an “insurrection”, which carries a sentence of at least seven years.
He said the group had been suspects since the day after the July 15 clashes, but didn’t explain why their arrests took place some eight months after the last individuals were arrested in connection to the case.
On July 21, 11 opposition activists were convicted on “insurrection” charges over the protest, receiving sentences between seven and 20 years in prison, in a case widely slammed as politically motivated.
During the demonstration, hundreds of CNRP supporters joined together to call for the government to reopen the then-heavily fortified Freedom Park, amid tensions over the disputed 2013 election.
The crowd responded to the attempts of the notoriously aggressive Daun Penh security guards to forcefully disperse them with brutal mob beatings, which saw 39 security guards injured along with at least six protesters.
Speaking yesterday, Major Seng Sarith said the newly pursued suspects were caught on video taking part in the violence.
“According to the video clips, they were actively committing violent acts and had beaten on victims on that violent day,” Sarith said, adding the other two suspects were being sought for arrest. “They also threw stones and solid objects at the police.”
However, Roeun Chetra and Yon Kimhour yesterday denied attacking guards and called for the CNRP to intervene and negotiate their release.
“I accepted that I joined the CNRP protest at Freedom Park on July 15, 2014, but I did not beat [guards] or throw any stones or solid objects at police or district security,” Kimhour said, labelling the arrest an “injustice” before being escorted into a prison van.
Chetra, stating he was the victim of “political accusations”, also professed his innocence and complained of his treatment by officers.
“Police arrested me while I was sleeping … inside my bedroom, they then cuffed me and brought me to the municipal police station without allowing me to get dressed properly,” Chitra said.
The defendants’ lawyer, Sam Sokong, slammed the decision to imprison the men as unnecessary, adding he would request their bail next week.
In a statement yesterday, the CNRP condemned the arrests, called for the prisoners’ unconditional release and demanded the government cease using the courts to intimidate its activists.
Responding via email from France, CNRP president Sam Rainsy claimed the “politically motivated” crackdown was a response to his party’s campaign to highlight alleged border encroachment by Vietnam.
“Hun Sen does not want anyone, except government officials, to raise this issue, which the government wants to address alone, meaning without any transparency,” Rainsy said in the email.
The arrests, Rainsy added, violated the two parties’ July 22 accord last year, which ended a 10-month parliamentary boycott by the opposition.
The deal led to the negotiation of new election reforms, signed in May, as well as a so-called culture of dialogue between the leaders.
The detente, though, appears increasingly hollow, in the wake of the recent arrests, said political analyst Ou Virak.
“A year after the political agreement bought [the CNRP’s] silence, the government is starting to wake up; it is shock therapy,” he said. “It is one way to try to divide the opposition, putting pressure on them to respond.”
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sous Yara, however, denied the government had influenced the court, saying it was merely “a coincidence” that Hun Sen on Monday called for more arrests in the case.
“We strongly adhere to the principles of human rights and personal freedom of individuals under the constitution and the law,” he said.