Thai Authorities Arrest, Deport 2 Cambodian Opposition Activists

Special to BenarNews
Thai Authorities Arrest, Deport 2 Cambodian Opposition Activists Cambodian political opposition activist Voeun Veasna is seen in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Voeun Veasna/Facebook

Thai authorities have arrested and deported to Cambodia two activists from the banned political opposition after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered one of them arrested over a poem criticizing the strongman ruler, two other party activists said Wednesday.

Thai authorities apprehended Voeun Veasna and Voeung Samnang while they were returning to their apartment on Nov. 8 and demanded money to bail them out, the two other activists told Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews.

On Oct. 9, Voeun Veasna used his Facebook account under the name Kranhoung Preylang to post a poem titled “Hun Sen is a Traitor” on the prime minister’s Facebook page. The poem criticized Sen for amending Cambodia’s constitution, thereby “destroying the country.”

The poem also accused Hun Sen of allowing Cambodia’s forests to be destroyed during his rule.

Hun Sen quickly responded to Voeun Veasna’s poem, calling it an expression of “extremist theory,” and called for his arrest, according to a Khmer Times report.

The 35-year-old activist affiliated with the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had been living in exile in neighboring Thailand.

Not much is known about Voeung Samnang, whose arrest Hun Sen did not order.

Oeur Narith, a fellow CNRP activist who is seeking asylum in Thailand, said he had been working with the United Nations and human rights groups to raise the bail money, but in the meantime Thai authorities had secretly deported the pair back to Cambodia.

“We tried our best, but they were deported quietly. It is unfortunate today that they have already sent them back,” Oeur Narith said.

Despite their arrest, Oeur Narith, who is wanted in Cambodia for incitement, said he would not be discouraged from continuing to support the opposition party.

“I have sacrificed my freedom and have been detained a few times,” he said. “I will continue to stand up for the country and not be selfish.”

The second CNRP activist who confirmed the arrests and deportations requested anonymity because that person is still working with the U.S. to ensure the safety of Voeun Veasna and Voeung Samnang.

Thai officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but on Tuesday, Thai Police Lt. Gen. Pakpumpipat Sajapand, deputy chief of police’s immigration bureau, told RFA-affiliated BenarNews by phone: “[We] do not have information on the people.”

RFA could not reach Cambodia’s national police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun for comment.

One rights activist blasted the move by the Thai government.

“The Thai authorities action to send these two recognized refugees back to Thailand is outrageous and unacceptable, and is a complete betrayal of Bangkok’s obligation to protect refugees,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

“By sending these two men back to face certain persecution, and quite likely abuses and torture in custody, the Thai government has shown it values horse trading with people's lives over upholding its rights obligations,” he said.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after arresting its president, Kem Sokha, over an alleged plot to overthrow the government. Scores of supporters of the group have since been incarcerated, awaiting a tortuous legal process made slower by COVID-19 restrictions.

The move came amid a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the country’s political opposition, independent media, and NGOs that allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in a July 2018 election and drew U.S. sanctions and the suspension of trade privileges with the European Union.

Thailand has historically served as a haven for refugees from neighboring countries, but has also repatriated people at risk of jailing or mistreatment.

In January 2019, Truong Duy Nhat, who had been a weekly contributor to Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese Service and was seeking political asylum in Thailand, was arrested by Thai Royal Police and handed over to Vietnamese police, who took him across the border into Laos, and from there back to Vietnam, where he is serving 10 years in jail on a land-fraud charge.

And in December 2018, Thailand deported to Cambodia the president of a construction workers union who had helped produce a documentary about sex trafficking for Russian state-owned TV network Russia Today (RT).

Rath Rott Mony spent two years in prison and paid a fine of 70 million riels (U.S. $17,200) in fines for “incitement” after his repatriation from Thailand, where he had fled to seek asylum.


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