A Cambodian-American opposition official was arrested, charged and jailed yesterday in connection with a July protest at Freedom Park that turned violent.
Meach Sovannara, a former parliamentary candidate and the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s information head, was arrested yesterday at about 10:30am while driving along Norodom Boulevard.
He was later formally charged with three crimes at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, including “leading an insurrection”, which carries a potential decades-long prison sentence.
The fallout from the July 15 demonstration – which was led by opposition lawmakers and saw protesters clash with district security guards – has seen well over a dozen Cambodia National Rescue Party members and supporters rounded up in connection with it, though most have since been released.
Seven CNRP lawmakers and a youth activist picked up in the days after the incident were the most high-profile of them, but they were freed as part of a political deal made with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on July 22.
The CNRP has said that its leaders are negotiating with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to secure Sovannara’s release, which they appear confident will soon be achieved.
Although police said they arrested Sovannara based on a Phnom Penh Municipal Court warrant, the politician told the Post by phone minutes before he was arrested that plainclothes police officers were trying to seize him without one.
“I am not getting out of the car, because they have not shown me any warrant,” he said.
“I would like Mr Hun Sen’s government to find justice properly [for me]. Do not arrest humans like they are animals like this. They are forcing me to get out of the car, but I said I would not until they produced a proper warrant. What wrong have I done?”
A video on CNRP president Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page uploaded later, however, showed police reading the court warrant to Sovannara when they arrested him.
“We just enforced [the warrant] according to the procedure of the court,” Phnom Penh deputy police chief Chuon Naron told the Post.
As Sovannara was questioned at court yesterday afternoon, CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann said that party leaders were negotiating with Interior Minister Sar Kheng to facilitate his release.
Rainsy declined to comment in detail on that claim, referring questions to CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann.
“We have already compromised to release [him] soon. Some issues we cannot speak about in detail,” Rainsy said.
Sovann said Sovannara’s case would likely follow a similar pattern as the previous arrests of other CNRP officials.
“Mr President [Sam Rainsy] and Mr Deputy President [Kem Sokha] will meet with Cambodian People’s Party leaders to release him soon. I think that it is not different from the previous story.”
He added that the arrest would create a poor climate for ongoing election-reform negotiations.
Keo Mony, the investigating judge in charged of the case, declined to comment. CPP lawmakers that often talk to the media could not be reached.
Sovannara’s lawyer, Chan Chen, said that while his client had been summonsed for questioning three times, he had asked formally for a postponement.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA