An opposition party youth activist was arrested and sent to Prey Sar prison yesterday, becoming the second Cambodia National Rescue Party member to be picked up this week. Some say this renewed crackdown is aimed at winning concessions from the CNRP in stalled election reform talks.
Roughly a dozen opposition activists and lawmakers have been arrested in total since a July 15 protest at Freedom Park that saw demonstrators attack district security guards.
Most have long since been released on bail, but four, including Tep Narin, the CNRP youth wing leader arrested yesterday, and party information head Meach Sovannara, arrested Tuesday, are behind bars.
Rights groups and analysts have said this week’s arrests have been orchestrated by the government to pressure the CNRP to concede to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party during negotiations over a new National Election Committee law designed to revamp an institution long seen as politically partisan.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak did little to undercut those accusations yesterday, telling the Post that whether Sovannara – who has been charged with leading an insurrection – was hit with a lengthy prison sentence or not would depend on how flexible the opposition party is with the CPP.
“I know that it will be not 30 years as analysts have said. I believe that it will not be long. If both parties come together [like family], it can be separated from the law,” Sopheak said.
Narin, the CNRP youth activist jailed yesterday, was accused of participating in violence in the aftermath of the July protest and placed under court supervision. This required him to regularly check-in with police twice a month, said Mon Phalla, the party’s executive director in Phnom Penh.
“He had failed to show up [once], because he was busy in the provinces. So the court ordered police to arrest him this morning when he went to clarify with them,” he said.
Two other opposition youth activists are also under court supervision, but said yesterday that they were not scared of also being arrested.
San Seyhak and An Paktham said they will both check in with police on Saturday as required. Paktham, 35, said they had been “charged unfairly.”
Separately, activists in South Korea – where tens of thousands of Cambodian migrants work – have threatened to hold protests during an ASEAN-Korea summit next month in Busan that Prime Minister Hun Sen is scheduled to attend. Last week, Suth Dina, the Cambodian ambassador to South Korea, came under fire for warning workers there to avoid political activity.
Yim Sinorn, president of a CNRP-aligned group called Youth Movement in Korea, claimed that 3,000 Cambodian workers would demonstrate unless Sovannara, who apparently founded the group, was released.
“If we hold a demonstration the government will be shamed on the international stage,” he said.
Although opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Interior Minister Sar Kheng held talks on Wednesday to negotiate Sovannara’s release, details of what was discussed remained elusive yesterday.
Rainsy has left the country for France for “personal reasons”, according to CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, who didn’t confirm a return date.