Phnom Penh police dismissed an activist’s allegations of death threats, saying no one in Cambodia faces such problems, and labeled the claims as opportunism to gain asylum overseas.
So Metta, an activist for nationalist group Khmer Thavrak, left Cambodia on December 17 with two sisters, saying she did not feel safe in the country. She was staying at a pagoda in Thailand, and had applied for asylum status, she said.
Metta, born Eng Malai, has been active for Khmer Thavrak and faced jail time in 2020 and 2021. Since her release, she has been involved in campaigns raising awareness about an environmentalist’s murder, the invasion of Ukraine and other issues.
Metta alleged she had faced three death threats since her release from prison in 2021, once as she observed a NagaWorld workers protest in the capital. At the time, a man followed her as she took photos and said she would be killed if she didn’t stop her activities, she recalled. She was also threatened outside the Phnom Penh court and at a coffee shop in the city, she said.
“The reason I decided [to go] is firstly the death threat, and, secondly, they threatened to stir up trouble for my brothers and sisters,” she said. “We are always being threatened.”
Metta’s sisters Eng Daravann and Eng Chandy said they had joined Metta in Thailand due to harassment at home. A man took photos of their house in December 2021 and followed family members around about 10 times last year, Daravann said.
“They take photos and follow us everywhere. It’s hard to live,” the 24-year-old said. Chandy added: “I’m asking the government to stop the persecution and threats against my family and me.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sokseyha, however, dismissed the claims.
“I think it is just a reason used as a stepping stone to go overseas. Do we actually see this situation in Cambodia nowadays? People are living happily without other issues, meaning they live under peace,” Sokseyha said.
“It is just their personal thought. No one suppresses them, but we actually see that it is a reason to find … a personal opportunity for families to go and live in any country.”
Environmental activists have been repeatedly jailed amid their advocacy work. The political opposition says more than 30 members have been assaulted since the party was outlawed in 2017. Prime Minister Hun Sen last week made a threat of violence against critics of the government.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin urged the sisters to file an official complaint about the threats.
“If they say they really suffered injustice, and their lives were threatened … please let them cooperate with the authorities to protect their safety. The law protects everyone from abuse, but we don’t know the facts of their cases yet.”
Soeng Senkaruna, spokesman for local human rights group Adhoc, said activists frequently faced threats for their work.
“Those activists got no solution for their previous complaints, so they escape and don’t want to file another complaint. That’s why they keep escaping,” Senkaruna said.