Two opposition CNRP activists were arrested by Thai authorities in Bangkok this week and handed over to Phnom Penh authorities, confirmed a government official on Thursday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Voeung Samnang and Voeun Veasna had been arrested based on a court order, denying in a brief converation that the arrests were political.
“We arrest only criminals who violate the laws [and send them] to court. We arrest criminals to punish, not to arrest the opposition,” Sopheak said.
Veasna stands charged with obstructing Covid-19 measures and incitement, the latter of which is due to critical comments he made about a month ago under a false name on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page. It’s not yet clear why Samnang was arrested, and attempts to ask the spokesman of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court were unsuccessful. A fellow activist exiled in Thailand told VOD the pair had been apprehended on Monday.
Eng Chhai Eang, vice president of the banned opposition party, told VOD in a message that both activists had been detained in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison following their arrests in Thailand.
He added in a separate Facebook post that their extradition was a violation of their rights as asylum seekers.
“It’s a serious human rights violation, especially the rights of refugees recognized by the UNHCR in the Kingdom of Thailand,” he said.
Catherine Stubberfield, a senior communication officer for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, declined to comment on the arrests due to confidentiality for the individuals.
Chhun Van, another opposition activist living in exile in Thailand, said he was not present at the time of the arrests Monday, but considered the legal action an attempt to suppress activists continuing to criticize the ruling party from abroad.
“It won’t be successful because there is a spirit of persistence,” he said, adding that Cambodians in the country were unable to criticize the government.
Veasna had on October 9 used a Facebook account named Kra’nhung Prey Lang to make a critical comment in the form of a poem about land disputes, the destruction of forests and legal measures on a photo of Hun Sen’s grandson on the prime minister’s Facebook page.
“People are exhausted, destroyed everywhere,” Veasna wrote.
In response, Hun Sen posted an arrest warrant for the activist dated May 2 for incitement and obstructing Covid-19 measures. The prime minister warned: “Try to get out of the country a little faster, nephew.”