Twenty-four hours after their arrest, two Boeung Kak lake activists remained at Daun Penh district police station, while a Spanish national was briefly detained then released for joining activists in demanding their release.
District authorities and police officials refused to comment yesterday on whether the duo – Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea – will be released or sent to court today, a decision that legally must be determined within a 48-hour window.
The two activists were detained on Monday evening following a cursing ceremony conducted as part of the ongoing Black Monday campaign, calling for the release of rights workers arrested in a bribery case tied to the alleged affair of acting CNRP president Kem Sokha.
As 20 activists then protested their detention outside the Daun Penh police station yesterday, Marga Bujosa Segado, a Spanish researcher clad in a black T-shirt embossed with the slogan “free the activists”, was taken to the department of immigration.
The department’s head of investigation, Uk Hai Sela, said Segado was released at about 5pm after officials determined she was living legally in Cambodia.
“First, we saw that she had no passport with her, so we just brought her and asked about that,” he said. “After her friend brought her passport with a legal visa, she was released.”
The French Embassy in Phnom Penh, which is in charge of consular affairs for Spanish nationals in the country, confirmed that officials “wanted to check her passport for identity verification and visa status”. The Spanish Embassy in Bangkok declined to provide additional information.
As the day wore on, activists, NGO staffers and observers continued to hold watch outside the police station, hoping for the two activists’ release.
When asked about their case, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the ministry was not involved in the decision and local police detained them because they were turning into an annoyance.
“It has happened so many times, so they [police] sent them to the police station,” he said. “It is enough to make them fed up because the protesters are always the same, especially Tep Vanny.”
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada yesterday said the activists were detained because they continued to flout the government’s ban on Black Monday activities.
“Even though they have been educated, signed contracts with authorities and promised to stop these actions, they kept doing this,” he said.
He added that authorities had in fact “softened their outlook” towards the activists, given that there hadn’t been many arrests recently and police had been using “educational measures” to inform them of their wrongdoing.
Police officials arrested, then released, four Borei Keila community activists on Monday morning for holding banners and sloganeering, a week after community activist Sar Sorn was detained as well.
Back at the police station, Vanny’s sister, Huot Chansovann, said the two were detained because officials were unhappy with the cursing ceremony, which had life-sized puppets labelled as “court”, “corrupt officials”, “people who order to kill” and “killers”.
“They arrested them like this because they scattered salt and chili, and put a curse on the court, because it has not released jailed human rights officials,” she said.
Fellow activist Song Sreyleap said she was allowed to meet Vanny, who said she believed officials were looking to arrest more community members but was unsure if and when this would happen.