Three Cambodia National Rescue Party staff members have fled, via Thailand, to another country in the region and are applying for asylum in third countries after being linked to the case of imprisoned opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour, sources have said.
The group – believed to be those called out by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a speech on Tuesday – fled to Thailand on August 19 after their names were mentioned during police interviews with Sok Hour, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.
Two of the men – Satya Sambath, 25, and Chong Leang Ueng, 20 – administer the Facebook page of CNRP President Sam Rainsy, while the third, 24-year-old David Sambath, brother of Satya, is a personal assistant to Sok Hour, a Sam Rainsy Party senator.
One of the sources who confirmed the escape maintained they were receiving assistance from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Both declined to be named due to the case’s sensitivity.
The second source – who spoke to the men following Sok Hour’s arrest on August 15 for posting a “fake” version of a 1979 Cambodia-Vietnam border treaty and video on Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page – said they fled because they were terrified of being targeted for their roles in uploading the post.
“They were so worried,” he said. “They said they did not know about the content of the treaty. They just followed orders [by Sok Hour] and did the technical [work].”
According to the first source, Sok Hour’s video was shot by Satya and uploaded by Chong Leang, while David was not directly involved.
In a speech on Tuesday, the premier – who ordered Sok Hour’s arrest for “treason” following the August 12 Facebook post – said the fake treaty, which purported to show Cambodia and Vietnam agreeing to dissolve their borders, had threatened national security and could have led to war.
He demanded that unnamed accomplices in the posting return from Thailand.
“[I] would like to appeal to those who escaped to Bangkok to return to Phnom Penh and confess to the authorities about their conspiracy,” Hun Sen said.
The group was originally identified in an August 23 article in local newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea.
That story quoted an unnamed Phnom Penh court source as saying the trio had been summonsed to answer questions about the case.
Yesterday, Phnom Penh penal police chief Sok Khemarin said he had no information about the suspects.
The first source yesterday said the group had fled across a small border crossing on August 19 after rumours of arrest warrants for them surfaced.
In Thailand, they stayed in a safe house and met UNHCR representatives on several occasions before flying on August 31 from Bangkok to another country in the region, where they met the UNHCR once more, according to the source.
The source said the men – who are homesick, anxious and struggling to eat and sleep – are now attempting to apply for asylum in third countries.
He said that their refugee claims are already being expedited by some Western countries, but did not want the nations revealed for fear of influencing the process.
“These guys really fear for their lives,” he said.
The UNHCR did not respond to questions by press time yesterday. CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann declined to comment.
Asked about the case, CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, while not confirming the men’s situation, said the current political climate would make such actions understandable.
“The [government] has said and continues to say anyone speaking wrongly about the use of the maps will face the law. Posts on face book [sic] are directly targeted,” she said via email. “The courts have almost never failed to act on order of the government. If a senator with full parliamentary immunity can be behind bars, the fear of being pursued by the courts is real.”
Sok Hour is being held in Prey Sar prison and faces charges of incitement and forgery for posting the treaty and a video of himself discussing its claims.
The opposition says his arrest, and the imprisonment of another 14 CNRP activists over an anti-government protest that turned violent last year are part of a politically motivated crackdown in response to their campaigning on the Vietnam border issue.