Police interrupted a press conference called by the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF) in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov district yesterday, arresting two organisers as one called for the release of members of the organisation and other political prisoners.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police officers arrested the two in Prek Pra commune in the house of Savak Khit, the self-proclaimed head of a group called the “Inter-Racialism High Commissioner”. The men arrested were identified as Thuy Vy and Lim Sophea, according to Municipal Deputy Police Chief Sim Vuthy. Khit accompanied them to the police station voluntarily.
Vuthy said the two were arrested because “in the past, [the KNLF] had distributed leaflets, incited the people, and that was illegal. Therefore, all the actions of its members are illegal”.
He said that Vy admitted being a member of the KNLF, while Sophea denied this, saying he was merely Khit’s assistant.
The Cambodian government considers the KNLF a terrorist group that aims to topple the government, and considers its little-known “government in exile” illegal.
It has repeatedly arrested members of the group, and leader Sam Serey fled the country and now resides in Denmark. The government has never released any evidence that the group is involved in violent extremism, and its members and leadership have always maintained they support peaceful change.
In a statement, which Vy read just before being arrested, he said he was well aware that the government considered his organisation’s actions illegal.
“I would devote my life to face threats to my personal safety and security. As you all know, KNLF . . . is on the blacklist [of people] that the government wants to arrest by accusing us of being traitors or a terrorist group,” he said, before calling on the government “to drop all charges against us, because we are doing advocacy peacefully for the sake of human rights and democracy to be improved in Cambodia”.
The statement said 17 of the organisation’s members were jailed. Chum Moleang, deputy commune police chief, said that police confiscated 52 copies of Vy’s statement found in his bag and seized a computer. He added that he had instructed Khit on May 13 to take down the “Inter-Racialism High Commissioner” logo, as the self-styled organisation was unlicensed, but his orders were not followed.
A woman who identified herself as Khit’s wife, but who declined to give her name, said that the conference was set up to seek her husband’s help in bringing self-exiled KNLF members back to Cambodia.
“If [Vy] did not bring along the statement, maybe the police wouldn’t have arrested him. A night before, my husband told him not to bring along anything, because the police would arrest him. He said okay, but during the conference, they took it out and the police were standing there,” she said.
Sim Vuthy said the suspects could be sent to court today.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Director Phil Robertson condemned the arrests in an email. “[Prime Minister] Hun Sen has repeatedly accused the KNLF of terrorism but provided no credible evidence whatsoever to back up his claims. Without such proof, his crusade against the KNLF is a clear violation of the right to freedom of association.”
This was echoed by Naly Pilorge, deputy director for advocacy with the rights group Licadho, who said that “we are not sure credible evidence was presented that, as a group, KNLF had committed any crimes or that the [two] people recently arrested had done anything illegal”.