Yet Another CNRP Official Arrested Over July Violence

A prominent opposition CNRP official with an outstanding court warrant for his alleged role in a July 15 clash at Freedom Park was arrested while driving in Phnom Penh and sent to prison Tuesday, police officials and his lawyer said.

Meach Sovannara, who ran as a CNRP candidate for Banteay Meanchey province in the July 2013 national election, was arrested while in the back seat of his car after police stopped it along Phnom Penh’s Norodom Boulevard near the National Bank.

CNRP official Meach Sovannara is escorted to a police van at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
CNRP official Meach Sovannara is escorted to a police van at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Video footage shows Mr. Sovannara, a former Radio Free Asia journalist, having his arrest warrant read to him by a uniformed police officer before walking to a nearby unmarked police pickup truck with his arm around the shoulder of a plain-clothed officer.

Phnom Penh deputy municipal police chief Chuon Narin said police executed the arrest in line with a warrant released by the municipal court. “We implemented the court warrant to bring him to court,” he said.

Mr. Sovannara’s lawyer, Chan Chen, said Investigating Judge Keo Mony, in court, ordered his client imprisoned and denied him bail pending a trial for a slew of charges handed down against him in July.

“After finishing the questioning completely, the investigating judge decided to detain my client at Prey Sar prison as my client has been charged with participating in an insurrection, intentional violence and the act of opposing public officials with violent resistance,” Mr. Chen said.

“While being questioned, my client denied the charges laid by the prosecutor because all images and video [of the protest] prove my client was not involved in an insurrection,” he added.

“The evidence shows that my client was telling people to love democracy and that they should act non-violently, so that is not incitement to hold an insurrection.”

Judge Mony declined to comment on Mr. Sovannara’s case when reached by telephone Tuesday afternoon.

The charges against Mr. Sovannara were handed down by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in July. He faces 7 to 15 years in prison if found guilty of taking part in an insurrection.

The charges came as seven CNRP lawmakers-elect were imprisoned over similar charges of “leading an insurrection” after protesters fought back against the notorious Daun Penh district security guards, who had for months brutally beat protesters trying to go near Freedom Park.

At least two of the district security guards were severely injured, with some briefly admitted into intensive care at hospital.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy declined to comment on Mr. Sovannara’s arrest Tuesday and referred questions to party spokesman Yim Sovann. Mr. Sovann said that the opposition was concerned the arrest had been made to pressure it to yield in the stalled election-reform talks.

“Of course, yes, it’s a concern. But we would like to appeal to the CPP not to create more problems for the very good environment of negotiations,” Mr. Sovann said.

“We would like to negotiate under a good environment, we do not want to see problems occur again and again—this is theater that the CPP plays again and again.”

The CPP and CNRP are presently deadlocked in negotiations over the qualifications that members of a reformed National Election Committee should have, and whether they should be allowed to hold foreign citizenships.

The arrest of seven CNRP lawmakers-elect and an official in July came only a week before Mr. Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen suddenly announced an end to the country’s political deadlock and the CNRP’s 10-month boycott of their 55 National Assembly seats.

In the month that followed the July 22 deal, with the CNRP rejecting the CPP’s wording in a draft for a new constitutional chapter that was part of the agreement, police arrested three CNRP youth leaders in Phnom Penh.

The trio was released two weeks after the CNRP folded to the CPP’s demands and entered the National Assembly.

Mr. Sovannara joins Sum Puthy, a CNRP member of the Chbar Ampov district council who was arrested in September over the same protest, as one of two CNRP officials presently being detained in Prey Sar prison.

Mr. Sovann said Tuesday that he believed the ongoing talks between the parties over the election law could still go ahead even with the latest arrest of Mr. Sovannara.

“This will make negotiations difficult. However, we will try our best to continue the negotiations peacefully, and I believe my president, Sam Rainsy, will call the top leaders of the CPP to try to solve the problem,” he said.

Mr. Sovann said he believed negotiations with the CPP would soon lead to Mr. Sovannara’s release.

“The arrests have happened two or three times before. The solution will be very similar to before.”

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