THIS week’s conviction of four men for distributing anti-government leaflets in Takeo province may have come at the behest of the Vietnamese government, an opposition lawmaker said yesterday.
Yont Tharo, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian and head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Cultural Centre, connected the convictions with comments made by a top Vietnamese security official in Phnom Penh last month. The official praised Cambodia’s cooperation in disabling anti-Vietnamese “plots” – especially the activities of Khmer Krom activists.
“The sentence of the [men] in Takeo was in parallel to the cooperation raised by Vietnam, on the border issue and the issue of Khmer Krom activists. We see that [Cambodia] has clearly followed the requests from Vietnam,” Yont Tharo said.
On August 3, Vietnamese Vice Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang told a conference in Phnom Penh that “cooperation and positive assistance” from Cambodia had helped to “disable plots and operations of hostile forces opposing the Vietnamese revolution”.
In his speech, Tran singled out Khmer Krom activists in the Mekong Delta region as a target of the joint efforts, which he said had recently led to the arrest of one person for illegal possession of weapons and three others for anti-Vietnamese leafletting in the border area.
In the case heard in Takeo provincial court on Monday, three of the men – including one employee of local rights group Licadho – were jailed after being sentenced to two years in prison. A fourth suspect was convicted in absentia and sentenced to three years in jail.
The three were arrested in May for distributing anti-government leaflets in Takeo province, which borders Vietnam, ahead of the January 7 Victory Day celebrations marking the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The fliers reportedly stated that the day should not be viewed as one of liberation, but as the day Cambodia became “abused and occupied” by Vietnam, which supported the overthrow of Pol Pot.
Takeo provincial police commissioner Ouk Samnang could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, did not comment specifically on whether Vietnam helped in the arrest of the three men, but said Cambodia maintained close law enforcement links with many other countries, including the United States, France, Australia, Thailand and Laos.
“We do not concentrate just on Vietnam,” Khieu Sopheak said. “But the cooperation with neighbouring countries is like tooth and tongue.”
He said the three men were arrested for publishing disinformation about current Cambodian leaders and “looking down” on former King Norodom Sihanouk.