Threats of more political arrests

Opposition supporters protest outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court
Opposition supporters protest outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Vireak Mai

Threats of more political arrests

As threats of further arrests hang over the opposition party, two more politicians were sent to Prey Sar prison on Friday after being questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Long Ry and Nuth Rumduol were arrested on Thursday and joined fellow Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) politicians Mu Sochua, Keo Phirom, Real Camerin, Ho Vann and Men Sothavarin at the infamous prison, where they have been detained since Wednesday.

“I decided to issue a warrant for their temporary detention at Prey Sar prison. They have been charged with three offences, the same as the other six accused,” said Keo Mony, an investigating judge at the court.

The eight now imprisoned, including CNRP youth activist Oeun Narith, are awaiting trial after being charged with crimes ranging from insurrection to holding an illegal demonstration for their alleged role in a protest that turned violent on Tuesday.

The group held at Prey Sar includes dual nationals holding Australian, American, French and New Zealand passports.

Police sources, who asked to remain anonymous yesterday, said an arrest warrant was out for Meach Sovannara, an elected party member in Banteay Meanchey province, who had not been arrested at press time. CNRP officials said they heard warrants were out for Sovannara and one more unidentified party member, but opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said no one would flee.

“We are committed to stay here. Nobody will go anywhere,” he said.

Phnom Penh Deputy Police Chief Chuon Narin could not confirm how many more opposition members would be arrested, saying police were waiting on the court.

But a senior municipal police officer who declined to be named told Post Weekend that police are looking to arrest eight other CNRP members and activists.

“There are eight more people who were accused by the municipal court prosecutor. We know their identities and we are working hard to arrest them,” he said.

A number of court officials could not be reached. Both Ry and Rumduol protested their innocence yesterday.

“I did not participate in committing these violent acts as I have been accused. I absolutely cannot accept these accusations,” Ry shouted as he was pushed into a police van at the court.

In a move that could escalate tensions further, the CNRP youth wing has called on supporters to turn out at the airport on Saturday to greet party leader Sam Rainsy.

His return from a month-long trip to Europe will mark exactly a year since his dramatic return from exile before the 2013 election, when tens of thousands lined the streets.

“I hope my return will help defuse the worryingly growing political tension, secure the release of all detainees allegedly linked to recent political violence, restart negotiations aimed at breaking the current political deadlock and begin a process of national reconciliation,” he wrote in a statement to the international community.

Likening the gravity of the protracted political crisis to the 1997 coup, Rainsy called on the international community to act.

Only the US embassy has called for the CNRP members to be released.

An embassy spokesman said officials were still “attempting” to provide consular assistance to Mu Sochua, a US citizen, but did not say whether the government was preventing them from meeting her.

The French Embassy said they had been able to meet Men Sothavrin, a French citizen.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva said she was “alarmed” at the ongoing arrests of opposition politicians and the “very serious charges” brought against them.

“Any politically motivated charges must be dropped immediately,” the spokesperson said.

Military spokesman Kheng Tito said the government would not set a limit on how many people could turn out to meet Rainsy on Saturday, but added no “protest” would be allowed.

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