Third Activist Is Detained Over Banner

Cambodian Center for Human Rights Deputy Director Pa Nguon Teang was arrested at the Cam­bodia-Laos border in Stung Treng province on Wednesday, four days after CCHR President Kem Sokha was detained and charged with defamation in Phnom Penh, officials said.

The arrest came as the outcry escalated over the Saturday detentions of Kem Sokha and Yeng Virak, di­rector of the Com­mun­ity Le­­gal Edu­ca­tion Cen­­­ter, ov­­er a banner criti­ciz­ing Prime Minis­ter Hun Sen and the gov­ernment that was displayed during the Dec 10 International Human Rights Day celebration.

Stung Treng Provincial Gover­nor Khim Seila said Pa Nguon Teang was arrested at the Dom Kralor border crossing in Stung Treng district around noon, after po­­lice received orders from Phnom Penh.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Pa Nguon Teang was also arrested for his role in the rights day celebration.

“We bring him to Phnom Penh for questioning and consultation,” Khieu Kanharith said, adding that Pa Nguon Teang has not been charged with any crime.

Police escorted Pa Nguon Teang back to Phnom Penh. Ac­cording to CCHR staff, he was be­ing detained at the Interior Min­istry on Wednesday evening.

Shortly after his detention, Pa Nguon Teang said by telephone from Stung Treng that he, CCHR spokesman Ou Virak and a third un­identified man had traveled to the province on Tuesday to meet with local villagers to discuss hu­man rights.

On Wednesday morning, they had approached the border checkpoint, with the intention of looking at the border but not crossing it, he said.

The three men were detained, but Ou Virak and the other man were subsequently released.

Police initially told the three men that they were taking Pa Nguon Teang to the provincial court, Ou Virak said, but police in­stead sped off to Phnom Penh, leav­ing the other two men to follow in their own vehicle.

“They said they just wanted Teang,” Ou Virak said.

Pa Nguon Teang said he was not shocked by his detention. “I am happy if I’m arrested because of my human rights work,” he said, adding that he did not believe he had done anything wrong and that he would now be able to see Kem Sokha, who is detained at Prey Sar prison.

The US State Department condemned the detention of Kem Sokha and Yeng Virak in a statement received Wednesday.

“This is the latest in a series of ar­rests and lawsuits targeting critics of the Cambodian Government and the cumulative effect of which is to call into question the Cam­bodian Government’s commitment to democracy and human rights,” State Department spokes­man Sean McCormack said in the statement.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that while he de­fended the lawsuit filed by the government against the two men, he was not in a position to defend the actions of the court and the men’s arrest.

“I’m not defending the arrest. This is the decision of the court,” he said. “The government is just fil­ing a lawsuit against the people. In our letter we did not ask the court to arrest or detain [them].”

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the government should immediately release the pair.

“Hun Sen appears to be following the Burmese model by imprisoning peaceful critics of his in­creasingly authoritarian government,” Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“The arrest of human rights activists, as well as recent show trials of opposition parliamentarians, is a throwback to the days when Hun Sen ran a one-party state,” he said.

He added that Cambodia’s donors “need to make it clear that they will not continue to subsidize almost half the budget of an in-creasingly repressive government.”

In a letter to the countries that signed the Paris Peace Agree­ments, opposition lawmaker Keo Remy on Wednesday appealed for international help in pressuring the government to release political detainees.

“I am not sure if the international community, including signatories to the Paris Peace Agree­ments, and donor countries are abandoning Cambodia,” he wrote.

“Only you…can effectively push the government and its political figures of the ruling parties to stop such acts of human rights violations.”

In a Tuesday letter to UN Sec­retary-General Kofi Annan, the Asian Human Rights Commission called the arrests a “shock to everyone.”

“The United Nations also has an obligation to those persons in Cambodia who have heeded its call for the development of democratic governance and a culture of human rights,” the letter reads. “Mr Kem Sokha and Mr Yeng Virak are a symbol of many thousands who wish to pursue that path of democracy.”

Lorne Carner, president of the In­ternational Republican Institute, called the arrests a “step backwards for democracy and human rights in Cambodia.”

“Such actions to restrict and punish freedom of expression are inexcusable for a government that claims to be democratic,” he said in a statement.

“The international community must make it clear to Hun Sen that this action and such human rights abuses cannot continue,” Carner said. “He must release all political prisoners and allow his fellow citizens to live in a free, democratic Cam­bodia.”

On Wednesday morning, about 200 villagers turned up for a CCHR-sponsored public forum in Siem Reap’s Puok district.

“Democracy is damaged each time another voice is silenced,” USAID Mission Director Jonathan Addleton said at the forum. “Steps backward like this can have ad­verse economic as well as political consequences.”

Alex Sutton, country director for the International Republican In­stitute, said the crowd at the forum was smaller than usual.

Participants, including opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann and local CPP and Funcinpec officials, did not dwell on the arrests, he added.

Sutton said he had been expecting Pa Nguon Teang to be at the meeting and was surprised to hear he had been arrested.

Former Australian ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin said he was distressed by Kem Sokha’s ar­rest, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Kem Sokha is really a very de­cent individual,” he was quoted as saying. “I am sure that there will be a lot of international support for this to be sorted out in a way that res­tores him to freedom.”

(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)

 

 

 

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