Cambodia's political crisis deepened yesterday as security forces arrested two more opposition lawmakers-elect from the Cambodia National Rescue Party and a judge summonsed the party’s deputy leader to appear in court for questioning.
The two lawmakers-elect, Long Ry and Nuth Rumduol, were arrested yesterday afternoon over their alleged role in a demonstration this week that descended into violent beatings of district security guards who attempted to forcefully break up the protest.
Yesterday’s arrests brought the total number of detained opposition members to eight.
At least nine opposition figures, including seven lawmakers-elect, were charged on Wednesday with crimes ranging from insurrection – which can carry a maximum sentence of up to 30 years – to holding an illegal demonstration.
CNRP lawmakers-elect Mu Sochua, Keo Phirom, Men Sothavarin, Ho Vann and Real Camerin, along with opposition youth activist Oeun Narith, spent Wednesday night in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison awaiting trial.
A group of pro-opposition demonstrators briefly gathered outside Prey Sar prison yesterday morning where they were met by a large police presence.
At about 3:40pm yesterday, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann and other party officials confirmed that Ry and Rumduol were arrested at Ry’s home in Phnom Penh yesterday afternoon.
Ry’s wife, Chea Sokumteany, told the Post shortly after the arrests that they were being taken to the municipal police headquarters.
“Twenty minutes before their arrests, [Phnom Penh] police chief Chuon Sovan called [Ry] telling him that the police had already arrived at our house … to bring him in for questioning,” she said. “I begged police to wait for his lawyer to arrive, but they wouldn’t.”
Investigating judge Keo Mony said he continued to question the six detained CNRP members at Prey Sar prison.
“I think that their questioning will take at least a few days to be completed, because there are six people, and because they all decline to answer the questions.”
“After completing their questioning, their case will soon be submitted to the judges’ council to be put on the pre-trial agenda.”
Another party activist, identified by CNRP officials as Khin Chamroeun, remains wanted by the authorities.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan insisted that the arrests were not politically motivated.
“This is routine procedure for law enforcement… This [action] completely respects the law.”
City Hall issued a directive yesterday barring CNRP supporters who gathered outside the court on Wednesday from using loudspeakers, which the municipality said disrupted court proceedings. “If they do not stop this activity … [they] will be punished by the law,” it says.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior rejected a CNRP request to hold a national congress on July 27 without explaining why.
“Our administration officers asked them to put in writing the reason for their rejection, but they did not,” said Yim Sovann, an opposition spokesman. “So I do not know what they want or what they are thinking.”
Opposition vice president Kem Sokha was yesterday ordered to appear in Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning over Tuesday’s violence.
Judge Mony called on the deputy opposition leader to appear in court at 8am on July 25 to “be questioned to clarify [the opposition’s actions on Tuesday] as CNRP [deputy] leader”.
In a video posted to the CNRP TV Facebook page last night, Sokha said that he would attend the summons and called on supporters to rally outside court.
“On July 25, they have summonsed me to court, so I would thank you if you could accompany me and observe it,” he said. “They are destroying our nation. They destroy democracy. We cannot stay silent; but I would like all of you to maintain dignity and non-violence.”
In a letter issued by Sokha shortly after the summons was made public, he called on all opposition lawmakers-elect to return to Cambodia from abroad to deal with the political crisis.
“I would like to inform all lawmakers-elect who have been abroad privately or on a mission to end all activities and return to Cambodia immediately, with the exception of those who have serious health problems,” the letter reads.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy said in an email to the Post that he would return to Cambodia from Europe, where he has been since mid-June, on Saturday – one year since thousands lined the streets to welcome him back from self-imposed exile.
“I will arrive at [Phnom Penh] airport on July 19 at 9:05am,” he said.
Rights groups yesterday roundly condemned the continued detention and charges against the CNRP members.
A group of 24 local civil society groups called for the detained to be released immediately and for all charges to be dropped.
“Eyewitness accounts and video evidence from July 15 demonstrate that there is absolutely no evidence against the eight that could justify the charges,” Ath Sam Ath, technical coordinator for Licadho, said in the statement.
In a separate statement, rights group Adhoc challenged the government charge that the lawmakers-elect incited CNRP supporters to commit violence.
“Adhoc in no way condones the violent actions of CNRP supporters who brutally beat Daun Penh public order guards.... However, Adhoc monitors at the scene heard the CNRP lawmakers-elect calling for calm and telling supporters to be peaceful: they did not incite or in any way instigate the violence,” it said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said it had found no evidence to suggest that any of the six organised, incited or participated in the violence.
REPORTING BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA, MEAS SOKCHEA, KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA, DANIEL PYE, KEVIN PONNIAH, ALICE CUDDY AND SEAN TEEHAN