Van Sophat was handcuffed just before lunch on Thursday, taken away from his house and rammed into a police car still shirtless, his wife said.
Chim Cheng said she heard one of the seven arresting officers say: “This is because you don’t join the other [side].”
“He told me to not be frightened, that they wouldn’t take him anywhere,” Cheng said. “But I was crying and I was so frightened.”
“I was in shock and my hands were shaking, and couldn’t think of anything because I was too frightened and I’d never experienced anything like this.”
Sophat, 40, was a Kroch Chhmar district councilor for the opposition CNRP before the party was banned in 2017. He was one of two ex-party officials taken away by police in Tbong Khmum province on Thursday. Sophat was later released, but the other man, Su Yean, 45, was sent to the provincial court, a prosecutor said.
Some 24 others from the party have been arrested this year.
Sophat was put on trial and sentenced in absentia for “plotting” last month at the provincial court alongside six others. Two were outside the country, one already in jail and two had gone into hiding. Those five were sentenced to seven years in jail. Sophat and one other official received suspended sentences.
Cheng said she didn’t know how she would take care of their 1-year-old baby and farm without him. She wished he had gone into hiding with the others.
Later in the evening, Kroch Chhmar district police chief Suos Seangly said Sophat “is not former CNRP. He is just a person, and we called him in to sit around, and now his family have taken him back.”
Sophat told VOD after his release that he had planned to go to Phnom Penh on Friday to observe protests marking the anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which ended years of civil war and mandated a move to democracy. Police asked him why he wanted to go, and whether he would take “forces” with him to Phnom Penh. He told them he only wanted to observe the proceedings.
Earlier in the day, Yean, a former opposition provincial councilor, was grabbed by seven men around 7 a.m. on his way to the hospital with his wife, Srey Seath, she said.
Seath, 33, said the men were in civilian clothes, and had blocked in their motorbike with two cars while on the road.
“They walked out of the car. They came to arrest him. … I don’t know where he is now and I don’t have any money to spend to find him,” she said.
“My husband threw his phone for me, but they pushed me away [preventing me] from taking the phone. I was scared seeing them punching my husband in the neck and forcing him into the car.”
Earlier this month, Yean was identified as having supplied T-shirts with the slogan, “Thank you for peace, but respect Article 2 of the Constitution,” to some Tbong Khmum residents. Police questioned three people for wearing the T-shirts. Article 2 concerns the country’s borders, a sensitive topic that has inflamed nationalist sentiment following claims that Cambodia is ceding territory to Vietnam.
Om Yeath, a former CNRP district councilor in Suong City, said Yean had been planning to bring some CNRP supporters to the Phnom Penh protests on Friday.
“People in Tbong Khmum still love the CNRP, so that’s why they keep persecuting us,” he said. “They do not want [people] to express their views and protest.”
Memot district police chief Sam Heng denied knowledge of Yean’s arrest, provincial police could not be reached and National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun said he did not have information on hand about the cases.
Tbong Khmum Provincial Court prosecutor Long Hok Meng said the court was processing Yean’s case.