A Sam Rainsy Party supporter is in prison awaiting trial for distributing leaflets that claim Prime Minister Hun Sen was responsible for the 1997 factional fighting, deforestation, loss of border territory and police repression of demonstrations after the 1998 elections, police said Thursday.
Opposition party officials on Thursday stood by the contents of the leaflets.
The party also said Hun Sen’s ruling CPP had made the arrest to test the extent of public and international reaction to what amounted to a gag on freedom of information.
Nou Sath, 35, was arrested in Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district Saturday while handing out leaflets to passers-by.
Titled “The Cambodian people will really not elect a bad guy to be prime minister,” the leaflet contains a graphic photo of a woman killed in a 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally and another of police beating Buddhists monks during demonstrations against the 1998 election results.
On the reverse side, seven bullet points attack Hun Sen’s rule since 1979.
The leaflet claims that bodyguards of the prime minister were involved in the grenade attack, a common assertion of the Sam Rainsy Party.
Prampi Makara Police Chief Yim Symany said Thursday that Nou Sath was “caught in the act” of disseminating false information and arrested.
“There was no need for an arrest warrant for a person caught in the act,” Yim Symany said.
“If you read the leaflet you know it is not true,” said Yim Symany, adding the material was intended to incite the public.
The leaflet also blames Hun Sen for the deaths resulting from the K5 work program in the 1980s and contains allegations regarding the killing of actress Piseth Pilika in 1999.
In January, the Sam Rainsy Party circulated a separate booklet about the actress’ death.
The booklet contained a picture of the star’s funeral, as well as those of Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany.
Municipal Court Prosecutor Sok Roeun said Thursday that Nou Sath was charged with disseminating false information and defaming Hun Sen.
“The photographs are true. But the seven points that say the prime minister committed these things are not true,” Sok Roeun said.
According to court documents and opposition party officials, Nou Sath was sent to Prey Sar prison on Tuesday for his pre-trial detention. Cambodian courts can detain a suspect for as long as six months before a trial.
Sok Roeun said the plaintiff in the case was the O’Russei I commune chief, who lodged the complaint against Nou Sath.
Opposition parliamentarians on Thursday said that the accusations against Hun Sen have long been made in newspapers and other reports.
“The authorities have chosen to target an ordinary and vulnerable citizen, Nou Sath, rather than instigating defamation lawsuits against higher profile newspapers and [parliamentarian] Sam Rainsy,” the party said in a statement on Thursday.
Sam Rainsy lawmaker Sonn Chhay said the same leaflets have been distributed in Kompong Cham province, where authorities have made no arrests.
“We are filing a complaint to the King,” said Sonn Chhay, who also stood by the veracity of the information in the leaflet.
Thousands of the leaflets remained stacked at Sam Rainsy Party headquarters on Thursday.