A Sam Rainsy Party member who escaped from prison last September was re-arrested yesterday in the place where he spent the majority of his time on the run: his home.
Meas Peng, 48, was being held in Kandal provincial prison last night accused of conspiring to use violence against a property owner he had been in a land dispute with – the same charge he claimed led to his arrest without a warrant in September.
The activist, who allegedly escaped prison with the help of his then-lawyer Choung Choungy and SRP politician Chan Cheng, was recently voted first deputy chief of Banteay Dek commune, a step up from the position he held when arrested last year.
SRP figures and Meas Peng’s family condemned the latest arrest, describing it as baseless and politically motivated and questioning its timing.
Kandal province SRP president Senator Eng Chhay Eang said the ruling Cambodian People’s Party had ordered the arrest as part of a post-commune election ploy to weaken his party.
“Before the election, they did not arrest him, because they were afraid of it affecting [popularity]. This is a strategy of the ruling party,” Eng Chhay Eang said. “There is not any reason to arrest Meas Peng now. The government should stop this activity.”
SRP officials said Meas Peng had lived at his home in Kien Svay district’s Samrong Thom commune since his escape in September and had regularly attended meetings at his local SRP headquarters.
However, Judge Lim Sokuntha, the man who ordered Meas Peng’s arrest, refused to comment yesterday on the timing of the arrest.
“This detention is under my order – the same order I made in September. We ordered police to detain him according to the old warrant,” he said.
Meas Peng is accused of having been involved in a land dispute in Prek Treng village in May last year; however, the SRP maintains he had no involvement in any illegal activity.
Meas Peng’s daughter Meas Mara, 25, said her father had been arrested simply for being a member of the SRP.
“A lot of land grabbers have not been arrested, but they have arrested my father, who is honest,” she said. “He has done nothing wrong. This arrest is a political issue. My father has not been corrupt.”
Choung Choungy, who was charged with aiding and abetting Meas Peng to escape, will not be representing him in court because he is too busy, Eng Chhay Eang said.
Choung Choungy appeared in court early this year with eight lawyers to defend himself over the incident after shaving his head and committing to a month-long “meditation for justice”.
SRP lawmaker Chan Cheng was also stripped of his parliamentary immunity over the case.
Choung Choungy declined to comment about the latest arrest yesterday, but has previously claimed Lim Sokuntha had Meas Peng arrested without a warrant last year and freely walked out of prison rather than escaped.
Human rights group Adhoc has appointed Meas Peng a lawyer, according to Men Makara, its co-ordinator in Kandal.
Chheng Samphors, senior monitor for rights group Licadho, said Meas Peng had done nothing illegal; he had just visited the disputed land to observe the situation.
“The court should consider whether this is actually justice,” he said.
Council of Ministers’ Press & Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha declined to comment yesterday.
To contact the reporter on this story: Meas Sokchea at [email protected]