A Cambodian dissident living in the U.S. whose activities have led to the arrests of seven people since last month said he was traveling to the Thai-Cambodian border to meet with fellow activists and would enter the country “to lead my people[’s] fight for freedom.”
Local authorities said they would arrest Sourn Serey Ratha—who has been charged with incitement for advocating an Arab Spring-style uprising against Prime Minister Hun Sen—if he returned. Though Mr. Serey Ratha and his Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM) denounce the use of violence to achieve their aims, the government has labeled them terrorists.
Contacted on Monday by email, Mr. Serey Ratha said he was leaving the U.S. that day for Bangkok, from where he would travel to the Thai-Cambodian border by Tuesday evening to meet with KPPM activists and discuss the group’s next moves. While he said he would enter Cambodia, he declined to say where or when because he was on the government’s “radar.”
“But the word ‘afraid’ is not in my dictionary,” he added.
Though Mr. Serey Ratha said he has snuck in and out of Cambodia since leaving for the U.S. in 2007, he said that this time he may hold a public demonstration as part of his plan “to lead my people[’s] fight for freedom, justice and change.”
National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith said Mr. Serey Ratha would be arrested if he crossed the border.
“We don’t have any choice but to implement the law,” he said. “The court issued an arrest warrant for him.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Chang Sinath, who is in charge of Mr. Serey Ratha’s case, could not be reached.
Meas Chanpiseth, a court prosecutor, said that Mr. Serey Ratha would be arrested if he came back.
“If he comes, the court will arrest him,” he said.
In early July, three men were arrested in Banteay Meanchey province for allegedly transporting shirts ordered by the KPPM printed with messages urging people not to vote in the July 28 national election and were subsequently charged with being members of an anti-government group.
Four others were arrested two weeks ago for buying flowers and printing stickers urging police and soldiers to “turn your guns against the despot,” also ordered by the KPPM. They were charged with incitement a few days later and released on bail.
Rights groups and legal experts, however, have said that Mr. Serey Ratha’s message and activities did not appear to constitute any criminal behavior or intent. They have denounced the arrests of the seven people authorities have sought to link to the KPPM and accused the government of using them to intimidate supporters of the opposition CNRP amid rising tensions over last month’s election, which both the CNRP and ruling CPP are claiming to have won.
Though the KPPM and CNRP both accuse Mr. Hun Sen’s government of myriad human rights violations, the two groups deny having anything to do with each other.
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)