Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Saturday handed down serious incitement charges to four people alleged to have passed out hundreds of leaflets encouraging a military coup, an accusation strongly denied by rights groups, who said the group wasn’t even in possession of such materials.
The four – Tut Chan Panha, Sok Dalis, Hy Borin, and Ly Linpheng – were arrested late on Thursday. Their arrest was announced by the National Police on Saturday, shortly after they were charged with incitement to commit a felony. If found guilty, they could each face up to two years in prison and fines of up to four million riel ($1,000).
In a statement issued by the National Police, the group is accused of distributing leaflets on the orders of Sourn Serey Ratha, head of the dissident Khmer People Power Movement.
Arrests were made while they were “producing and distributing hundreds of leaflets”, National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said.
“The production and distribution of the leaflets are a deliberate action to create armed violence, causing serious instability to the nation, which is to be sentenced by law,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, senior technical officer for rights group Licadho – which is providing lawyers for Dalis, 28, and Panha, 28 – said yesterday that they had been arrested while heading to pick up a shipment of 1,000 flowers that they planned to distribute to military personnel.
“They are not related to any activities of leaflet distribution as accused by police. They just went to collect the flowers, and this is their right,” he said.
Borin, 33, a printing company staffer, and Linpheng, 31, a print shop owner, were arrested at the same time and have since retained their own lawyers. They could not be reached for comment.
Police insist all four have links to Serey Ratha, who on Wednesday posted on Facebook a call to action, encouraging people to visit a local florist that evening where the store owner would provide them with yellow roses. Attached to each is a small card preaching nonviolent resistance, but also bearing a potentially violent message.
“This nonviolence rose is for change,” reads the card. “Give one rose to each hero soldier who are Cambodian people. Please turn the gun barrels toward the dictator and take your lives to protect citizens with the same blood because Cambodian soldiers and citizens are both Khmers and must protect each other.”
A photograph of the card, with the words blacked out, was posted on the National Police website.
Panha’s mother, Chan Setha, said her son and his friend Dalis had been asked by an anonymous person to pick up the flowers but denied that the flowers had any anti-government propaganda on it.
“They went to fetch the flowers, but not the leaflets on the flowers,” she said. “This is very unfair.”
Neither Panha nor Dalis had ever been in contact with the pair who were arrested at the same time, while the printer told Setha during the arrest that “she just printed [the cards] as ordered and was not aware of their meaning”.
The detentions mark the second time in as many months that those with links to KPPM have landed in jail. In July, five were arrested for printing and transporting KPPM T-shirts bearing anti-election slogans.
Serey Ratha yesterday denied that he intended any provocation but just wished to encourage people to stand up for their rights.
“They all have the rights, freedom and power to do what they think is correct,” he added.
Last week at a rally calling for a peaceful conclusion to the elections, Dalis was interviewed on Khmer Post radio. In the broadcast, she said she “could not accept” the results of the election and said she would join a demonstration “if it is peaceful”.
In a speech given in May, Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed the dissident group was linked to terrorists hiding among the opposition and had been training armed insurrectionists in Thailand.