Prominent human rights officials and members of the ultra-nationalist Khmer Front Party are concerned about their safety after rumors circulated that they may be arrested next in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s crackdown on critics.
Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said from Bangkok Monday that he first heard the rumors of his possible arrest on Saturday while he was attending public forums in Kompong Cham and Kratie provinces.
“Until now we have heard only rumors,” he said. “They are only rumors, but sometimes rumors come true.”
He denied fleeing the country, stating that he arrived in Thailand on Sunday to attend several prearranged meetings with embassies to secure funding for his NGO and that he planned to return to Cambodia in a few days.
The rumors also included Licadho President Kek Galabru and Say Bory, an adviser to retired King Norodom Sihanouk and outspoken commentator on border issues, who is in France, Kem Sokha said.
Attempts to reach Kek Galabru and Say Bory were unsuccessful. Kem Sokha said he had heard that Kek Galabru had also left the country.
Naly Pilorge, Licadho director, said she did not want to speak to reporters.
Kem Sokha said he did not know where the rumors had originated, adding that similar rumors preceded the arrests of Beehive 105 FM Radio station owner Mam Sonando and Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association.
“I think the last time [there were rumors of arrests] I didn’t believe it, but that was before,” Kem Sokha said.
He added that while the border issue does come up at his public forums, he has never accused the government of selling land to Vietnam.
“I only say that before the government signs the treaty, they should let the people understand the benefit,” he said.
Khmer Front Party Secretary-General Mao Sam Oeun said he, party president Mao Moeung Yat and Deputy President Sun Sokun Mealea had fled Phnom Penh on Sunday for fear they would be arrested for criticizing the government over the border treaty.
“We are very concerned about our security, which is why we split up into the provinces,” he said. “We will stay in the provinces until the situation is resolved.”
The party released a statement on Oct 12 condemning the supplemental treaty, saying it would cause Cambodia to lose land.
Government lawyer Suong Chanthan refused to comment on whether lawsuits would be filed against Kem Sokha, Kek Galabru or Say Bory.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court officials said they had not received any such lawsuits.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak also said police had not received any new warrants.
“But if the court decides, then we are ready to follow the court’s decision,” he added.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith also said the government has not filed new lawsuits. He defended the court’s decision to charge Rong Chhun with incitement, which carries a maximum 5-year jail sentence upon conviction.
“When you have people talking about the border issue, it is a very serious issue,” he said. “Then they want to lead angry demonstrations and the public might misinterpret,” he maintained.
Khieu Kanharith also said the government is not revealing the full details of the supplemental border agreement yet to help negotiations with Vietnam.
“It’s like in poker,” he said. “You have a better game if you don’t show your whole hand.”
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana and Pin Sisovann)