An opposition commune councilor was arrested Tuesday in Kampot province for circulating a petition as part of a nationwide effort by the CNRP to free more than 20 party activists and human rights workers currently behind bars.
Doung Thon, 54, a CNRP council member in Chhuk district’s Trapaing Phlaing commune, was arrested at his home after ignoring a police summons allegedly based on complaints from local residents that he was pressuring them to thumbprint the petition, said provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith.
His arrest comes after two opposition activists were arrested in Kompong Thom province last Thursday while collecting thumbprints for the same campaign.
“We arrested him based on the complaints made by the local villagers that he was threatening them,” Major General Chanma-thurith said. “He pushed the residents to give their thumbprints, and some residents who weren’t thinking provided the thumbprints to him.”
Under questioning by police, Mr. Thon said he was collecting the thumbprints based on instructions from his superiors in the party, Maj. Gen. Chanmathurith said.
“He told us that he collected the thumbprints based on orders from his upper level, but we did not ask him who the upper level is because we do not want someone criticizing us, saying this is politically motivated,” he said.
The police official deflected the question when asked what specific crime Mr. Thon was suspected of committing.
“The residents filed a complaint to us because they are worried that guy took their thumbprints to do a bad thing,” he said.
Sao Sam Oeun, a deputy provincial police chief, said Mr. Thon had been released at around 5 p.m. after signing a contract vowing to cease collecting thumbprints.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, who also chairs the party’s executive committee, said the party had told officials across the country to collect thumbprints for a petition to send to King Norodom Sihamoni by the end of the month.
“We are expressing our opinion peacefully. We did not do something against the Constitution or against the law,” he said, adding that the party still planned to collect “as many” thumbprints as possible.
However, government spokesman Phay Siphan said the CNRP’s campaign did violate the law, as there are specific provisions in the Criminal Code protecting the courts from pressure or criticism.
“We are still monitoring on that. In the Criminal Code—I forget the article number—they stipulate clearly that whoever protests against or issues any statement that protests against the court is [committing] a crime,” Mr. Siphan said.
Articles 522 and 523 of the penal code prohibit the “publication of commentaries intended to unlawfully coerce judicial authorities” and “discrediting judicial decisions,” both of which are punishable by one month to six months in prison.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)