Ex-CNRP Commune Councilor Arrested Over Years-Old Forestry Charge

2 min read
Chum Sarath, in a photograph posted to former CNRP parliamentarian Kong Saphea’s Facebook page on October 6, 2020.

A former opposition commune councilor in Pursat province was arrested on Tuesday over an old warrant related to the clearing of forests, police said.

Luong Bunlay, Veal Veng district’s deputy police chief, said the warrant against Chum Sarath was old, but officers had been unable to enforce it at the time.

“He had escaped,” Bunlay said. “When he returned, we implemented the warrant.”

He said the arrest was made on Tuesday in relation to clearing forests “a long time ago,” but he would need to look up further details of the case. He could not be reached later in the day.

Another police officer working on the case, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said it dated back to 2014 in Anlong Reap commune’s Chamka Chrey Khang Cheung village. Sarath was accused of clearing forests with a machete, the officer said.

Heng Donin, spokesperson for the Pursat Provincial Court, said a judge was in the process of questioning Sarath on Wednesday, adding that the accused was a former second deputy chief of Anlong Reap.

In a speech on Wednesday in Kandal province, Prime Minister Hun Sen said arrests were being made “to protect the poor people in a population of 16 million.”

“[We] have a duty to protect peace, political stability and social order,” he said.

“One rises up, one beaten up. Two rise up, two beaten up,” the premier added, repeating a phrase used by government officials in reference to cracking down on dissenters. 

A lawyer for the CNRP, Sam Sokong, said Sarath had been on the run last year in connection with party co-founder Sam Rainsy’s promise to return to Cambodia. More than 100 former CNRP members were charged with plotting and other crimes at the time for allegedly supporting Rainsy.

Those charges were being relitigated now, Sokong said. “There are cases now almost across the country. They are being put on trial — hunted down for arrest.”

Rainsy, who lives in exile in France, failed to make it to Cambodia on his promised November return date last year. In recent weeks, he has once again vowed to attempt a return.

Sokong said former members of the CNRP, which was outlawed in 2017, were under immense pressure.

“They are all at risk of arrest and surveillance. … They do not know when they might be arrested,” the lawyer said. “It is frightening, and we do not know why the court brings up old [cases], but they make an excuse that this is the procedure and there needs to be a trial.”

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