Four Buddhist monks were briefly detained and had their phones confiscated during an opposition party rally in Oddar Meanchey on Friday morning.
The monks – Loun Sovath, Prim Huon, Seng Nara, and Nob Vanny – were taken in for questioning by Provincial Governor Sar Thavy and police officers.
According to Sovath, reached an hour after his release, police took offence to a Facebook Live video posted by Huon, in which he said “if any official or any party brings trouble to villagers, don’t vote for that party”.
“That is why the police were accusing this monk of telling [falsehoods],” Sovath said.
The four were questioned between 10am and 1pm and were released after they agreed to delete any videos and live broadcasts from the incident.
“I think they violated my rights; my right to freedom of expression and information,” Sovath said.
In a now-deleted Facebook Live video, Sovath showed himself speaking with Governor Thavy during the confrontation.
“Monks are not supporting the CNRP or CPP. We just want the politics to go through with neutrality and [according to the] Buddhist way,” he says in the video.
“We are not broadcasting things that are contrary to or distort the facts. And we just broadcast it, and if it is right or wrong the public will know.”
The arrest followed a pattern of harassment of opposition supporters that morning, according to Mounh Sarath, head of the CNRP taskforce for Oddar Meanchey.
Sarath said authorities had attempted to prevent organisers from setting up a marquee for the event in Samroang commune, had blared loudspeakers in order to disturb a speech given by party president Kem Sokha and had set up “illegal checkpoints”.
“Roads were blocked, and in some case, they asked our supporters to walk. [It’s] many miles away; they cannot do it,” he said.
The event had prior approval from the provincial election committee, he said.
“We are very, very disappointed.”
Sarath said the supporters had wanted to leave with their president in convoy, but were blocked by authorities until, reaching a compromise, they “split up”.
Broadcasting the fallout from these obstructions by authorities led to the arrest of the monks, he said.
Governor Thavy was briefly reached on Friday, but was cut off due to a bad connection, and did not respond to later calls.
Prominent activist monk Bun Buntenh described the events as “fruitless work that the authority [is] not suppose[d] to do”.
“They just wanted to limit our rights because they think that we are not on their side,” he said.
“Monks have full rights to fully participate in politics … The more they trouble us, we will participate more in politics.”
Oddar Meanchey Provincial Deputy Police Chief Lek Sokha denied any police wrongdoing.
“What the monk claims, that the police are hurting villagers, is not true. We just asked them to show us the video. What they said was not true, so we asked them to delete it,” he said.
“Just checking [their phones] is not violating their individual private property rights, because we are not taking or stealing. And monks don’t have property.”
“We don’t even dare to block anyone; it was the NEC who told them not to go further.”
Som Sorida, deputy secretary general of the NEC, said he was not aware of the case.
Additional reporting Phak Seangly, Ananth Baliga and Shaun Turton