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Police arrest 3 Cambodian opposition party members

Cambodian authorities arrested three opposition party members on Thursday — one leader from a new party and two members of an older party — ahead of a range of elections on May 26, activists told Radio Free Asia.

Sun Chanthy, 44, president of the National Power Party, formed last year, was questioned by police after being arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport upon his return from Japan, where he addressed Cambodian supporters.

Charged with incitement, he was detained at Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters. 

Chea Mony, vice president of the National Power Party, traveled with Sun Chanthy to Japan and witnessed the arrest, saying it had to do with upcoming provincial, municipal, district and Khan council elections.

Chea Mony said that during the visit to Japan, Sun Chanthy did not make political statements that would have disrupted Cambodia’s social order or national security.

“There was no effect on national security according to accusations by the court,” Chea Mony told Radio Free Asia. “The council election is coming. We don’t need to explain, [but] this is a threat ahead of the election.”

“This is a repeated action to scare the pro-democrats,” he said. “The party doesn’t have any plans to incite anyone.”

New party

The National Power Party was formed in 2023 by breakaway members of the Candlelight Party, the main political organization opposing the government under the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP. 

The CPP has ruled the country since 1979, often arresting political opposition members on politically motivated charges ahead of elections to ensure its own politicians retain power or win new seats in contested areas.

In response to the arrest, the National Power Party issued a statement calling on the government of Prime Minister Hun Manet to release Sun Chanthy without any conditions and to restore political space so that the party can participate in the democratic process.

Adhoc staffers Ny Sokha, (foreground, C), Yi Soksan, (rear C) and Nay Vanda arrive at an appeals court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 13, 2016. (Heng Sinith/AP)

In the arrest warrant issued on May 7, Chreng Khmao, prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, ordered police to bring Sun Chanthy to the internal security office of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police before May 23 for questioning on the “incitement” charge.

But the warrant didn’t mention what Sun Chanthy said during his Japan visit that brought about the charge.

The Ministry of Justice issued a statement saying authorities arrested Sun Chanthy for incitement to provoke social chaos because he blamed the government of being biased and discriminatory with the distribution of poverty cards for the poor and that he twisted information. 

Candlelight Party members arrested

Also on Thursday, police arrested two members of the Candlelight Party in Kampong Cham province — Dum Khun, second deputy head of Ampil commune in Kampong Siem district in Kampong Cham province, and Sim Sam On, commune councilor of Ampil — said former Candlelight Party leader Ly Kim Heang.

They are being detained by Kampong Cham provincial police, she said, adding that authorities have not yet told their families the reasons for their arrest and have not allowed them to see the two men.

The Candlelight Party issued a statement saying that the arrests constituted a threat aimed at eliminating legitimate political activities, and called for their release.

Since the beginning of 2024, more than 10 members of the Candlelight Party have been detained by authorities, including six officials from Kampong Cham province. 

Ny Sokha, president of Adhoc, Cambodia’s oldest human rights group, warned that the government’s reputation would deteriorate and that it would face more pressure from the international community if it continued to arrest opposition party members. 

“This will affect the government’s reputation on the world stage,” he said.

Translated by Yun Samean for RFA Khmer. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.