Toek Soklorn says she was ready. Her husband was on the run for nearly two years, dropping back home every few months for only a couple days at a time. He had warned her that one day he’d end up in jail, or dead, if he kept going down a political path.
On Thursday, police arrested four people after a mass trial against opposition officials and supporters at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Soklorn said her husband, Proa Chanthoeun, had gone to show his support outside the courthouse.
Chanthoeun, along with another supporter, Mok Sam An, was sent to the Tbong Khmum Provincial Court for incitement to disturb social security, said National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun. The two others were released after being “educated,” he said.
For Soklorn, hearing of his arrest was still a shock. “But I felt no regret, because I had prepared myself for that,” she said.
“I was prepared to hear it, because he had already told me that as long as he walks the path of politics, there are only two outcomes — if you don’t die, you will be imprisoned,” Soklorn said. “He told me to live on while he sacrificed, and he would not walk back.”
“I can’t stop him since his will was committed to it,” she said.
Chanthoeun, a former commune councilor, was on the run since the lead-up to November 9, 2019, the date opposition CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy vowed to return from exile in France. The CNRP, which challenged the ruling party during elections in the last decade, was controversially dissolved in 2017. Continued support for the party has been met with criminal prosecution, and dozens were arrested in the run-up to Rainsy’s promised return. Rainsy never made it onto his flight from Paris.
Chanthoeun fled an arrest warrant to Phnom Penh, where he worked as a construction worker, Soklorn said. He came home every few months, staying only a few days at a time, she said.
The couple had three children, aged 22, 18 and 15. Two of them worked to help support their living, as Chanthoeun had prepared them to do, she said.
“The actions [the government] has taken are not good karma, and put other children through pain and suffering,” Soklorn said. “I am very hurt, but it makes me stronger, because what they do will hurt even more mothers and children” if it continues.
“If a man is a good person and loves his fellow citizens, they should find a solution and shouldn’t arrest people just for small things,” she said. “What they do splits families.”
Authorities should be clearer about what people’s alleged crimes are, or they simply lose people’s trust, she said.
Tuy Channy, the wife of Sam An, the other man sent to the Tbong Khmum court on Thursday, said her husband fled to Phnom Penh on Wednesday after her commune chief warned her that police were tracking him down for arrest.
“They’ve kept their eyes on him for the past two months,” Channy said. Sam An was also a former CNRP commune councilor in Tbong Khmum.
“He told me that he’s sacrificing for the nation, while I sacrifice for our family,” she said. “I support his decision that he wants to bring about change for the nation. To bring about change, he needed to sacrifice being with his family for the nation, so I didn’t stop him.”