An opposition activist has been charged with threatening to murder for allegedly making death threats against the leaders of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, while five other Cambodia National Rescue Party members have been charged with illegal logging.
The CNRP yesterday claimed the charges against Hong Viravuth, 41, and five other CNRP members were politically motivated in the lead-up to this month’s election, though observers cautioned it was too early to make such judgements.
Yun Phally, a Kampot provincial monitor for rights group Licadho, said Viravuth was arrested in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district last Tuesday for threats made via telephone against unspecified CPP leaders, then charged in Kampot province.
“According to the court warrant that we saw, Viravuth was detained in Kampot prison on June 27 and charged with attempted murder,” he said.
In a subsequent recording he had obtained between Viravuth and a source, Phally said the accused had claimed he had lent his phone to a friend to borrow during the period he had allegedly made the death threats.
CNRP members Bo Udom, 26, Nhanh Nang, 20, Tith Tha, 34, and Seng Eoun, 25, were arrested the following day in Kampong Speu province attempting to transport logs from Taken commune in Kampot’s Chhouk district in trucks marked with opposition party stickers, Phally said.
The day after that, 51-year-old Suo Tan, an active CNRP member from Satpoang commune, also in Chhouk district, was arrested and then charged on Saturday for illegally transporting logs and forest fruits, Phally said, adding that Tan had recently erected an opposition sign at his house.
Kampot provincial governor Khoy Khunhour confirmed the charges yesterday but denied they had anything to do with political intimidation.
“We arrested and detained them in accordance with the law as they committed the actual crimes of illegal logging and attempted murder.
“These people have taken the opportunity of the campaign for their illegal businesses and threats,” Khunhour said, adding that he had ample evidence and welcomed the CNRP to appoint lawyers.
Mok Piseth, a lawyer rights group Adhoc has put in charge of the case, could not be reached yesterday.
CNRP deputy public affairs head Kem Monovithya said yesterday that the day before Viravuth’s arrest, he had confronted members of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit who were trying to coerce a woman to take down two CNRP signs from her house.
“The old lady called the activist and the activist came and said do not drop the sign . . . and the activist put up two more signs,” she said. “[Viravuth] said he would stand there by the sign. “There was nothing the bodyguards could do, and I’m sure there was a war of words,” she said, adding that the CNRP did not know why he went to Phnom Penh the next day.
Monovithya claimed Prime Minister Hun Sen had been scheduled to speak at an event directly outside the house the next day and said the arrests were undoubtedly political.
National Election Committee spokesman Tep Nytha said it was too early for the CNRP to conclude the arrests were due to political interference.
“I received all the information about the arrests, and I am monitoring the case to find out the actual reason but . . . if they were involved in illegal logging, they would be arrested,” he said.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said he needed to make an in-depth study before drawing any conclusions on the charges.
“We need to study a little bit about that, but the CNRP, they maybe see the pattern that their people have been abused or their leadership pursued in the courts, so they maybe feel there is consistent trouble from the court,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID BOYLE