UPDATED 9:06 a.m. EDT on 2022-06-01
Cambodian authorities on Monday arrested a former young activist and Norwegian citizen who recently returned from exile to support the opposition Candlelight Party in the June 5 communal elections, RFA has learned.
Ir Channa lived in Norway after being granted asylum there in 2005 for criticizing the Cambodian government’s attempts to resolve a border dispute with Vietnam.
While abroad, he came to support the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which the Supreme Court of Cambodia dissolved in 2017. Minister Hun Sen to claim the 125 seats in the National Assembly during the general assembly. elections the following year, kicking off a five-year crackdown on political opponents of the CPP.
The Candlelight Party has grown over the past year to become Cambodia’s largest opposition party. Candlelight officials complained for weeks that their party’s candidates were harassed by officials supporting the ruling CPP.
Ir Channa returned to Cambodia last week to serve as vice president of the Candlelight organization in the country’s southern province of Takeo.
He was arrested while trying to apply for a passport in Phnom Penh and detained in Prey Sar prison on charges of conspiracy to commit treason for his actions two years ago when he would have disturbed the social order to such a degree that he would have the security of the nation.
Candlelight Party Vice President Son Chhay told RFA’s Khmer Service that Ir Channa is the second person affiliated with the party to be arrested after his voluntary repatriation. He expressed concern over the arrest, calling it another example of intimidation against his party.
“Why do they make these kinds of arrests during the election campaign period?” he said. The campaign period began on May 21 and will end on June 3. “It’s just bullying to disrupt the election.”
CPP spokesman Sok Ey San said the arrest and the election were unrelated.
“It’s not pressure against an adversary. It has nothing to do with the election. Don’t link this matter to the election campaign,” he said, and cited the 2020 mandate in waiting.
Sok Ey San also said that an active election campaign period cannot prevent the court from issuing warrants or arresting criminals.
In another move against the opposition, a Buddhist monk from the northern province of Siem Reap said he was removed from office for supporting the Candlelight Party.
Heng Kim Lay raised funds for the festival, which caused several pagodas to deny him entry. He left the party on May 28, but the pagodas refused to bring him back to the fold.
“As a monk, I have political rights and I shouldn’t be a victim,” he told RFA. Supporters urged him to flee to Thailand, he said, but he decided against it.
RFA could not reach Ministry of Cults and Religions spokesman Seng Somoni for comment.
Dismissing a monk for his political opinions is illegal, according to Am Sam Ath of the NGO Cambodian League for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights.
“Monks have the right to support any political party. He didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.
Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this report incorrectly spelled Ir Channa’s name as Ear Channa.