Two opposition commune officials were questioned, charged and promptly imprisoned on Thursday in separate cases that CNRP officials said were meant to keep their candidates from participating in local elections in June—a charge the ruling party’s spokesman denied.
Chao Veasna, a Poipet deputy commune chief, was charged with incitement and provisionally detained after being questioned by the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court on Thursday over a 2015 case involving a protest that turned violent, a court spokesman said. Incitement carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.
Ly Sokun, the second deputy chief of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak I commune, was charged with forgery and forging a public document and sent to Prey Sar prison, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin. The crime carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Both are at the top of the CNRP’s list for the coming commune elections, meaning they would become commune chiefs if the opposition wins there.
Sam Rainsy, who resigned as opposition leader a week ago, has predicted that the CNRP will dominate the CPP in the commune elections, and said that anxiety by the ruling party is motivating their moves to suppress the opposition, most recently through legal amendments that would give the government broad powers to dissolve rival parties.
Sok Keobandith, a Banteay Meanchey court spokesman, said that after an extensive investigation into the 2015 demonstration, there was ample evidence showing that Mr. Veasna “was involved in incitement, which led people to protest.”
In December 2015, about 100 cart-pullers demonstrated against arbitrary fees charged by officials at the Poipet International Checkpoint. False rumors that a cart-puller who was beaten by authorities had been killed prompted protesters to attack the local customs office, which resulted in an estimated $20,000 worth of damage.
Suor Chandeth, a CNRP lawmaker in Banteay Meanchey, said Mr. Veasna had only been observing the protest and that his arrest was politically motivated.
“At the time, he went there because it’s his location. He was only standing and watching the demonstration,” he said.
“They are trying to threaten our members who want to run in the commune election.”
The case of Mr. Sokun, the commune official in Phnom Penh, is related to his management of voter registration monitoring late last year. Mr. Sokun allegedly handed an ill person’s registration monitor ID card to another person to fill in, according to Ho Vann, a CNRP lawmaker in Phnom Penh.
“He didn’t do anything or sign on the monitor’s card,” Mr. Vann said. “They should not be detaining and charging him because this was only a small thing. If someone forged documents for land or money, they should be arrested.”
While Mr. Vann said it was wrong to pass the card to another person, he added that commune officials from both parties had agreed to allow a replacement monitor. Mr. Sokun, he said, would be seen by the public as a political victim.
“When he is in jail, it looks bad, like it is politically motivated, because he is standing for the commune election,” Mr. Vann said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the CNRP was always excusing illegal activity.
“They always say the right thing is wrong,” Mr. Eysan said. “The authorities never arrest or detain someone without those people having committed a crime.”
Mr. Veasna and Mr. Sokun bring the number of CNRP officials and activists jailed since May 2015 to at least 23.