A 75-year-old man living near the former site of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake was detained by police on Thursday after he was found collecting thumbprints from villagers for a petition calling for the release of jailed independent radio station owner Mam Sonando, villagers said Friday.
Chey Lay said he was visiting homes in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune when six police officers approached him and ordered him to stop asking villagers to put their name to Mr. Sonando’s cause.
“They detained me at around 5 p.m. and held me until 8.30 p.m. before allowing me to go home,” he said. “They told me that if I continued collecting thumbprints for Mam Sonando I would be arrested.”
He added that he had managed to collect about 200 thumbprints before police came and halted him. Mr. Sonando, 71, is currently being held in Prey Sar prison awaiting trial on four counts related to planning a secessionist movement in Kratie province.
District officials declined to comment on Thursday’s incident. But Srah Chak commune chief Chhay Thirith said he was unaware why Mr. Lay had been taken into custody.
“I was busy in the provinces, but when I come back my officials told me that Chey Lay had been allowed to go already. So I am not too sure about this case,” he said.
Since Mr. Sonando returned to Cambodia from a trip to the U.S. and was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh on July 15, thousands across the country have come out in favor of his release. On Monday, more than 100 of his supporters gathered in front of the Royal Palace to pray for his freedom.
Chea Bamrong, deputy director of Mr. Sonando’s Association of Democrats, said on Friday that the group had received more than 14,000 thumbprints from its members in favor of his release. “There are still more members who do not give their thumbprints because authorities have threatened them,” he said.
Many rights groups have linked Mr. Sonando’s arrest to Beehive radio’s decision to broadcast information regarding a request filed by the dissident Khmer People Power Movement at the International Criminal Court calling for an investigation of the government for crimes against humanity.