Officials from the recently dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party in Battambang yesterday described coercive tactics allegedly used by police to compel opposition members to defect to the ruling party.
On November 16, the Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the CNRP, the only credible competitor to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Before and after the ruling, Prime Minister Hun Sen encouraged members of the opposition to defect to his party, with opposition figures across the country accusing authorities of engaging in intimidation tactics to compel their defections.
Ven Vath, a former CNRP commune councillor in Battambang’s Ek Phnom district, described being accused of a crime by police, then being presented with a document to thumbprint declaring his defection.
“On November 17 the police came to take down the party banner at the office. At first I did not know who they were. A day later I said, ‘Doing this is like robbery in broad daylight,’” Vath recounted yesterday.
“The CPP activists in the village heard what I said,” he continued, explaining that he was soon contacted by police, who took him to a building in town where they accused him of obstructing the removal of the banner, then offered him the defection notice. Though he thumbprinted the document, Vath declined to say outright that he was forced to defect.
“Now, even after I thumbprinted to agree to defect to them, they still follow me. It seems like they don’t trust me . . . They still discriminate against us. The commune chief is still in hiding,” he said.
Khut Savey, a former district-level CNRP official in the same district as Vath, said four former officials were bribed on the night of Hun Sen’s November 26 defection deadline.
“The commune chief gave them each 1 million riel. Two agreed to defect, but two others did not. They attempted to give the money back to the commune chief, but he did not accept it,” Savey said.
Local CPP and police officials could not be reached.
Kin Leung, the former executive of CNRP’s Prey Veng branch, said most defections there had also been involuntary.
“Those who were forced to defect and rejected are in hiding. Some fled to Phnom Penh, some fled to Thailand,” Leung said.
Phil Robertson at Human Rights Watch said commune officials were in particular danger because “it’s easier to intimidate someone who has less stature and fewer alliances”. He also called on the Thai government to be lenient on any political refugees.
Additional reporting by Andrew Nachemson