Teenager Arrested for Telegram, Audio Messages Insulting Officials

3 min read
A photo supplied by Prum Chantha shows her son’s head injury after he was attacked with a brick by unknown assailants in April 2021.

Nine officers stormed the house of a jailed opposition politician on Thursday night, arresting his 16-year-old autistic son who was previously assaulted in public with a brick in April, according to the politician’s wife.

Kak Komphear, a former CNRP council member, was arrested last year and is part of the currently suspended “mass trials” against opposition supporters who allegedly backed exiled CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy’s attempt to return to the country in 2019.

Prum Chantha, the 16-year-old’s mother, said about 20 officers surrounded her house on Thursday night to make the arrest.

Nine officers stormed the house, handcuffing her son and taking him into an awaiting car, she said. None of the officers had presented an arrest warrant, she said.

Chantha said that in recent months her autistic son had been on his phone contacting people who had insulted his father as a traitor or rebel. The son appeared to be dealing with emotional trauma, she said.

“I call on national and international organizations to help monitor my son and ask the government to release my son. He is too young. He is a minor. He is not old enough — [why] arrest him and mistreat him like this,” the 44-year-old said.

The son was attacked by two unknown assailants in April, when he was struck on the head with a brick and needed 20 stitches. In October, he was also detained for two days after breaking into the CNRP’s abandoned headquarters.

His mother has also been an active protester herself since her husband’s arrest, frequently rallying outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for his release.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sokseyha said the arrest and detention of the 16-year-old was in line with the law.

The suspect was involved in two red-handed crimes: incitement to cause serious chaos to society and insulting public officials, he said. Authorities had evidence in the form of an audio message and the suspect’s Telegram messages, Sokseyha added.

“If there was no incitement or insult, no one would have arrested him. Otherwise, all people would be arrested. So, it means that only for wrongdoing do authorities take legal action,” Sokseyha said.

CNRP vice president Mu Sochua called for the unconditional release of the 16-year-old to show that law enforcement is not taking orders from the ruling party.

“Release their father, release their family, do not continue harassment, do not continue to threaten us, do not continue virtueless and immoral activities for the sake of your own power. This is purely politically motivated. The court is an instrument of Mr. Hun Sen,” Sochua said.

Am Sam Ath, a deputy director at rights group Licadho, said the mother was an active protester who on Friday participated in filing a petition to the British Embassy to lobby for the release of her family and other political prisoners.

The arrest of her son was a threat to freedom of expression, he said. 

“If we look at the broader picture, it is persecution and intimidation of former opposition party activists,” he said.

The CNRP was the country’s main opposition party, winning 44 percent of the vote in 2017’s commune elections, before it was outlawed later that year.

According to Sochua, 31 former party activists have since faced violence. More than 100 party officials and supporters are part of the mass trials at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

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