Minor Party Founder, Land Activist on the Run

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Heart Party founder Seam Pluk and his lawyer Choung Choungy leave the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh on December 24, 2021. (Ouch Sony/VOD)

Cambodian National Heart Party founder Seam Pluk is at a “safe place” following accusations of forgery, according to his lawyer, as police said they were continuing their hunt for the politician.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court initially ordered Pluk to appear for questioning on March 22 in relation to alleged forgery while trying to register his party. When he did not appear, the court further called on authorities to bring him in for questioning by April 25.

The Interior Ministry rejected the Heart Party’s application due to alleged irregularities in collecting necessary thumbprints from supporters, and accused the party of being backed by exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has been convicted of a slew of crimes.

Defense lawyer Sam Sokong said Pluk was now at a safe place but declined to tell the whereabouts.

“I have contacted my client, and my client declared his intention [to show up] and will not escape. He will go to testify but I am not sure when, since he is busy with his personal work,” Sokong said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesperson San Sokseyha said authorities were looking for Pluk. “So far, we have not found him,” Sokseyha said.

Separately, land activist Sat Pha, who has been active in protesting outside the Phnom Penh court during mass trials of the opposition party, said she had escaped the country following unidentified death threats.

Pha said she returned from the Khmer New Year holiday on Saturday to find a note threatening her life posted on the front door of the home where she lived alone.

“If I did not escape, I could lose my life,” Pha said. She added that it was not the first threat against her, including two phone calls she had previously received.

She had informed the U.N. about previous threats, but this time had not complained to police as she did not trust them, she said. They had not found justice for her following a previous incident of violence, she said.

Pha said she had traveled for three days before reaching a second country late last night. She said she was at a safe place and would seek help from the U.N. to settle in a third country.

“I’ve demanded the release of political prisoners and the dropping of charges against them,” she said, pointing the finger at the government and ruling party.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said he heard about Pha’s case, but did not believe authorities were behind any threats against her. Pha was just one among a small group of protesters, and was nothing outstanding, he said.

“In my personal opinion, this is her intention … this is her trick to gain political asylum in a second country,” he said, encouraging her to cooperate in a police investigation if the threat was genuine.

Additional reporting by Ouch Sony

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