Phnom Penh Municipal Court Wednesday ordered the detention of six Cambodian men at an unknown location after charging them on Tuesday with conspiring to commit acts of terrorism during this weekend’s Water Festival, officials said.
Municipal court Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun and Investigating Judge Chang Sinan confirmed the detentions but refused to disclose any further details.
Asked whether the men were opposed to the government, Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said: “Their aim was to cause explosions during the Water Festival…. They are an anarchist group and terrorists.”
Khieu Sopheak said the men were common criminals, who he described as a “trifling bunch who were once jailed for stealing cows and buffaloes.”
Police began arresting the men on Oct 24 in Svay Rieng, Siem Reap and Prey Veng provinces, Khieu Sopheak said. He would not, however, identify the men, say where they are being held, or discuss their alleged bombing conspiracy, citing an ongoing investigation.
Officials at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and local rights group Adhoc said they received complaints from relatives of three of the six detained men and that the families are seeking their release.
Phnom Penh motorbike taxi driver Siem Nier came to CCHR seeking help for his brother-in-law, Som Soth, 45, and Som Soth’s neighbor, Pov Sam An, 46, both of whom were arrested in Svay Rieng province in recent days, CCHR investigator Chheng Sophors said.
“We will begin our investigations [today] in Svay Rieng,” he said. “We don’t know whether they are involved with terrorism or not.”
Chan Soveth, head of Adhoc’s monitoring section, said his organization had also received a complaint from Siem Nier. He added that the wife of suspect Suos Vanthan, a Banteay Meanchey province construction worker whose age is unknown, has complained to Adhoc’s Banteay Meanchey office about his arrest.
“The police arrested them without explaining [the cause] to the families,” Chan Soveth said, adding that Adhoc would provide lawyers for the suspects.
“They should not be detained,” he said. “Before being charged they should have lawyers.”
Siem Nier said by telephone on Wednesday that he only learned the nature of the charges against Som Soth and Pov Sam An after complaining about their arrests.
“When I filed the complaints with the human rights NGOs, they told me,” he said. “I was so shocked.”
Som Soth’s wife, Sok Phally, 43, said by telephone from Svay Rieng that police had arrested her husband at 10 am on Sunday.
“He and I both didn’t know the reason,” she said. “He was always sick and never went anywhere.”
The couple are farmers and do not belong to any political party, she said.
Oum Kosal, 35, the wife of Pov Sam An, called for her husband’s release.
“I am asking for help for my husband,” she said by telephone, adding that her husband also did not belong to any political party.
“He farmed during the dry season all the time. Why are they accusing him?” she asked.
Cambodia’s 1992, anti-terrorism law defines terrorism as violent acts intended to create disorder and affect political stability. It provides life sentences for acts or attempted acts of terrorism causing death.