Candlelight Supporters’ Protest Broken Up by Thai Police

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Cambodian opposition activists gather at a pagoda in Thailand’s Chonburi province on January 22, 2023. (Supplied)
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Candlelight Party supporters in Thailand held a small protest against the arrest of party leader Thach Setha but say they were surveilled and asked to end the protest by Thai police.

Setha, who is Candlelight’s vice president, was arrested in Phnom Penh in an alleged check-bouncing case and has been in pretrial detention since last week. The party denounced his arrest and criticized the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, but quickly backtracked after Hun Sen warned of violence.

Sat Pha is a Boeng Kak lake activist who left the country and moved to Thailand after an anonymous death threat was posted on the door of her home last April. She said around 40 people attended the event in Thailand’s Chonburi province and that 15 of them shaved their heads in protest.

“We demand the release of Thach Setha,” Pha said. “We are not satisfied that today’s leaders are persecuting and oppressing the people.”

She added that the group had safety concerns about conducting the protest in Bangkok and instead held it in a pagoda in Chonburi province. As they held the protest, Thai police took photos of the protesters, asked why they were shaving their heads and asked for the protest to be ended, she said.

The police visit increased fear among the participants.

Chhorn Sokhoeun, 43, was a Cambodia National Rescue Party supporter in Banteay Meanchey province and left the country after he was asked to defect to the ruling party after the opposition party was dissolved in November 2017.

The Thai police told the protesters that while they were advocating against the Cambodian government, it could also affect the Thai government, Sokhoeun said.

“Your action sends a political message to your government, but it may also have an impact on the government of my nation as we do not allow outsiders to use our country for a political position,” said Sokhoeun, relaying what the police said in Thai.

He said opposition supporters and activists in Thailand were routinely monitored in the country but that they tried to continue pushing for democratic change in Cambodia.

Three police officials from Chonburi’s Si Racha town said they did not know about the protest.

Opposition activists in Thailand, who left before or after the opposition CNRP was dissolved, have said they are constantly monitored by police and are forced to live very nondescript lives to avoid attracting attention.

The Thai government has also not hesitated to deport Cambodia dissidents, despite some of them having U.N. refugee status.

Sok Eysan, a CPP spokesperson and senator, said Setha’s case was a personal issue and not a political matter.

“Without Thach Setha signing a fake check, there would be no problem,” he said. “It is a personal matter for Thach Setha.”

The Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Additional reporting by Jintamas Saksornchai

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