Six members of Cambodia’s opposition Candlelight Party, or CLP, remained in police custody after they were detained on Friday and Saturday for holding a rally in support of a new political party.
Rights groups slammed the detention as the latest bid by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP, to eliminate its political rivals. They say the CPP has used other tactics – including onerous bureaucracy, legal technicalities, and intimidation – to keep would-be competitors off of the country’s ballots and maintain its grip on power.
Police arrested Banteay Meanchey province CLP leaders Sin Vatha, Tep Sambath Vathano, Long Lavi, Tuot Veasna, Chhum Sinath Van Siw and 17 others on Sept. 8 and 9 in connection with a rally they held to collect enough people’s fingerprints to register a new opposition party, former Banteay Meanchey Provincial CLP Secretary Suon Khemrin told RFA Khmer.
Authorities detained the rally’s organizers despite having obtained authorization from the Ministry of Interior to form the new Panha Tumnerp – or Intellectual Modern – Party, said Suon Khemrin.
The former CLP secretary, who was among those arrested, was released along with 16 others on the afternoon of Sept. 10, after more than 30 hours in custody, he said.
Suon Khemrin said that while in detention, police asked him who was behind the new party, but he told them he had only had seen an Aug. 18 letter from the Ministry of Interior granting Im Sognet the right to form the Tumnerp Party and requiring him to collect enough fingerprints to register the party within 180 days, according to the country’s political party law.
He told RFA that the six men who remain in detention were being held at the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Station “for further questioning.”
“Before I was released, the police told me to sign a document that was noticeably vague in its wording,” he said.
Attempts by RFA to contact Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Chief Sithi Loh for comment on the arrests went unanswered.
‘Violation of political rights’
Seung Senkaruna, the spokesperson for local NGO the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, or ADHOC, told RFA that the arrests are a violation of citizens’ political rights.
He said that the formation of a new party is a “legitimate political action,” and that authorities should facilitate such actions.
“[The authorities] have been doing this to the opposition party and its members for some time now, but it only draws more criticism and can be seen as politically motivated,” he said. “It only proves that the oppositions’ accusation of persecution is real.”
According to the Law on Political Parties, any Cambodian citizen who is aged 18 or older and is a permanent resident of the country has the right to form a political party simply by notifying the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior must reply in writing that it has received the notification within 15 days.
The law states that in order to be valid, political parties must apply for registration with at least 4,000 members, depending on the province where the party is based.
Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.