Activist Who Was Carried Away From Embassy Protest Arrested 4 Days Later

6 min read
Demonstrator Sath Pha sits on the ground crying after being carried away from the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh by security guards following a protest across the street on October 23, 2020 (Matt Surrusco/VOD)

An opposition activist was jailed on incitement charges on Wednesday after she was forcibly carried away by authorities from a protest at the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh last week.

Sath Pha, a supporter of the outlawed opposition CNRP, was arrested on Tuesday evening, former CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann said in a Facebook post.

Prime Minister Hun Sen this week accused Vann, who is living in exile overseas, of orchestrating ongoing activism among CNRP supporters in Cambodia. The party was dissolved by the Supreme Court in 2017 amid a government crackdown on the main opposition, civil society and independent media.

Pha’s arrest came four days after she joined October 23 demonstrations in front of the embassies of China, the U.S. and France, which marked the 29th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements. The accord formally ended years of conflict in Cambodia and laid a framework for democratic governance in the country.

Protesters had called on the 19 signatory nations, which include China, the U.S. and France, to respect the agreements, and voiced opposition to alleged plans for Cambodia to host Chinese military assets — claims both China and Cambodia have repeatedly denied.

At the first rally on Friday morning, which took place across the street from the Chinese Embassy, three activists were arrested and later charged with incitement to disturb social security.

(Mech Dara/VOD)

Pha, who had been carried away from the embassy by her limbs by four district security guards, was charged with the same crime and placed in pretrial detention at Prey Sar prison on Wednesday, said Y Rin, a spokesperson for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

If convicted, Pha and the three other demonstrators face six months to two years in prison.

Some 50 people have been arrested this year amid a crackdown on dissenting voices and protesters, about half of whom are affiliated with the CNRP. 

Pha, the cousin of another detained opposition activist, Heng Sothy, had been injured on July 31 when officers dragged her across a street during a protest, Human Rights Watch said in a statement. She was seen wearing a brace on her left knee on Friday.

But National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun on Wednesday suggested that Pha was putting on “a show” and faking her injury.

“The authorities have arrested her in compliance with the court order and now sent her to prison for [creating] chaos,” Kim Khoeun said. “[You] see the photos of the woman who had broken her leg and protested, and she deserves to be imprisoned.”

“[She] made a show,” he added, “and now she has her leg operation.”

Pha was taken to the police station after the July 31 protest, and said at the time that she had signed a pledge not to join marches and protests in the future, according to Human Rights Watch.

“After I thumb-printed [the pledge], I told them that I will keep marching until the 17 [CNRP activists] are released,” Pha told the rights group.

In a separate case on Monday, the Pursat Provincial Court held a hearing against three former CNRP officials accused of illegally clearing and encroaching on community forest land in the province’s Veal Veng district in 2015, said defense lawyer Lor Chunthy.

Chan Sophal, 62, Toun Sam Ath, 68, and Nem Nath, 40, who did not appear in court, were sued by a local resident, but the evidence against them was insufficient, Chunthy said.

“Some buy [land] from other people; some also cut down forest that has already been cleared because they do not have land,” the lawyer said. “There is not enough evidence to bring charges.”

He said the court would announce its verdict on November 4.

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