Outspoken opposition lawmaker Um Sam An, who has incurred the government’s wrath in the past with his strident criticism of its Vietnam border policy, was sent to court on Monday afternoon after hours of questioning by anti-terrorism police at the Ministry of Interior.
Immediately following the questioning at the ministry, Sam An said he had been charged with “incitement to cause chaos in society”, though it was unclear whether the charge had been made official by the court.
“This is an injustice,” Sam An told reporters after his questioning, adding that he had “no regrets, and I planned and prepared for this”.
Sam An was arrested the night before in Siem Reap shortly after arriving back in the country, and was taken to the anti-terrorism department of the Ministry of Interior this morning.
Saron Sam Oeun, deputy provincial chief of security, confirmed the arrest but declined to comment on why Sam An – who holds parliamentary immunity as National Assembly representative – was being arrested or who gave the order.
“We arrested him in front of the Canadia Bank at 12:40am last night while he was withdrawing money, and we had used a lot of forces including police and military police,” he said. “He did not fight back when our authorities arrested him, and we have sent him to the Ministry of Interior.”
Sok Kim Seng, an opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party Siem Reap provincial councillor, said police had surrounded his house for hours looking for Sam An.
“There were 40 police and military police surrounding my house from 9:30pm until 12:30am, and they took me at 12:40am to provincial police headquarters because they suspected that he stayed with me … They had checked my calls,” he said. “They tried to ask me ‘where is Um Sam An?’”
“Their actions violated my rights…and threatened me,” he added. “They killed two birds with one stone – they arrested Sam An and they threatened me.”
The Cambodia National Rescue Party, in a statement, called for Sam An’s immediate release and condemned the arrest as a “serious violation of the principle of parliamentary immunity, a principle enshrined in the Constitution”.
Parliamentary immunity has been no obstacle for police in the past, however, and government officials on Monday were quick to assert that they were within their rights in arresting Sam An, citing a constitutional clause that allows for the prosecution of a lawmaker if they are caught “in flagrante delicto”, or in the act of committing a crime.
“It is just like previous people, like Hong Sok Hour, because he had disseminated information just like him, and we know what his actions were,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said yesterday, referring to the jailed opposition senator arrested under the same legal justification for allegedly posting portions of a “fake” border treaty with Vietnam.
Sok Hour’s arrest was widely criticised as politically motivated, and observers at the time suggested it was an abuse of the “flagrante delicto” clause.
Sopheak added yesterday that Sam An “said the government used a fake map [for border demarcation]; even though we had invited UN experts to demonstrate and verify it, he still continued to say it. What he wanted was for people to hate the government by using the border issue to make people rise up to topple the government.”
“This is a red-handed crime, and they apprehended him immediately … despite his parliamentary immunity,” he added.
While the government, at the height of the border controversy last year, requested maps from the UN and held a ceremony insisting that the maps verified their own, an independent audit of the border demarcation process is ongoing.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chhin Malin echoed Sopheak’s line of reasoning, and insisted there was “no conflict with the law” in arresting Sam An.
Since Sam An had posted the offending remarks publicly, he said, “everybody has seen, known and heard [about them] … therefore we can call this a red-handed case”.
Sam An’s parliamentary immunity has been threatened in the past by ruling party lawmaker Chheang Vun. Last July, Vun said that a four-day investigation of Sam An’s criticism of National Assembly President Heng Samrin – who had previously refused to forward a letter about the border to Hun Sen – found that Sam An had “acted wrongly”.
Vun declined to comment at the time on what law had purportedly been broken.
Last September, Sam An was also allegedly named in a court complaint relating to violent scuffles that broke out between opposition supporters and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians during a border visit.
However, the person named as the plaintiff in the case said she had never filed the suit, and didn’t want to pursue it. Nonetheless, she said at the time, she was grilled by a Svay Rieng prosecutor as to whether Sam An and fellow CNRP lawmaker and border activist Real Camerin had led the visit, though the prosecutor refused to tell her the nature of the complaint she was purported to have filed.