The Foreign Affairs Ministry has revoked the Cambodian passports of 12 senior opposition leaders, with a ministry spokesman saying the officials were fleeing from the law.
In a letter dated Wednesday, the ministry notified its diplomatic and consular missions abroad that the passports of the CNRP politicians should now be considered null and void.
The 12 passports revoked were for party vice-presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang as well as senior officials Ho Vann, Long Ry, Morn Phalla, Sor Chandeth, Kong Saphea, Heng Danaro, Vann Narith, Nhim Kimnhol, Yisa Osman and Dang Chamreun.
Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong confirmed the veracity of the letter in a Telegram message, and explained that the government considered the 12 to be evading arrest.
“The cancellation of the passports is because they are guilty of a court verdict and they are fleeing law enforcement abroad,” Kuong said.
Amnesty International issued a statement on Thursday saying it had seen documents revoking the passports and called for an end to the harassment of Cambodians linked to the dissolved CNRP.
“The last few days have seen a wave of brazen harassment and intimidation of Cambodians throughout the region. It is appalling that Hun Sen’s government is trying to co-opt regional neighbours to collude in this blatant abuse,” Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East and Southeast Asia regional director, said in the statement.
Sochua was detained at Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Wednesday night to Thursday afternoon after arriving from Jakarta, where her press conference was interrupted by the Cambodian ambassador to Indonesia. Two CNRP youth activists were also held at the airport from Monday. Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the pair were also released on Thursday.
With just one day to go until the country’s Independence Day, the CNRP maintained that its exiled senior leaders would still be attempting a homecoming on Saturday.
“Still maintaining the same plan: Cambodia by land. Hun Sen can not deprive us a& the people the right to return. Open the border,” Sochua wrote on Twitter.
The leaders have been living abroad since the Supreme Court dissolved the party in November 2017. They have since vowed to walk from Thailand back into Cambodia alongside thousands of supporters.
It is unclear, however, how the opposition leaders would even get close to the border, with Sochua denied entry into Thailand last month and the party’s acting president, Sam Rainsy, unable to board a flight from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Wednesday that he would not allow political activities on Thai soil.
The Cambodian government has also deployed troops along the Thai border, and arrested dozens of CNRP supporters within the country.
Chhay Kim Khoeun, spokesman of the National Police, said the number of CNRP supporters who had “confessed” — that is, disavowed their support for the CNRP so they would not be arrested for “plotting” — now exceeded 400.
Sixty-four CNRP supporters had been arrested and there were 91 outstanding arrest warrants, he added.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, meanwhile, suggested that people were “hiding out” in the Cardamom Mountains, and said they should “please, come out to confess.”
“Don’t be afraid to enjoy Independent Day tomorrow and Water Festival on November 10-12 with your families,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Only nine senior CNRP leaders who have been charged with “attack” against state institutions — including Rainsy and Sochua — needed to be afraid, he said.
“The Cambodian government of Hun Sen guarantees the safety of the people. Local and international tourists can have fun across the country without any kind of fear,” Hun Sen said.
Updated at 8:33 p.m. with information from Human Rights Watch about the release of two youth activists from detention at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Additional reporting by Mouv Mara
Mouv Mara and Va Sopheanut are part of the Newsroom Cambodia training program.