An activist with the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was severely bludgeoned by unknown assailants Tuesday in the latest of a string of assaults on opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling party, he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Prak Seiha, the former commune councilor of Kamboul commune in the capital Phnom Penh’s Kamboul district, told RFA he was hit from behind with a rock by two assailants on a motorbike as he was traveling to the city’s Prampi Makara district. The assault broke several of his teeth, injured his mouth, and required 10 stitches, he said.
The former CNRP commune chief told RFA from the hospital where he is receiving treatment that the attack came after he refused to defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), prompting threats on Facebook and entreaties by former opposition members who had switched allegiances. He had refused, he said, deciding to continue his job as a motor taxi driver.
Prak Seiha said he believes the assault was “politically motivated” and part of a bid to discourage CNRP activism, but vowed to continue his efforts, adding that he is unlikely to file a complaint because he does not expect justice to be done.
“I appeal to the United Nations to monitor the human rights situation in Cambodia,” he said. “Those who oppose the government are being beaten and attacked.”
As of mid-February, more than 30 CNRP activists, their relatives and advocates have reported being beaten by anonymous attackers since early last year—mostly by motorbike-riding assailants targeting their heads. The attackers have used batons and bricks, and also their own vehicles, against victims.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha for his role in an alleged scheme to topple the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Police detained Prak Seiha and his wife for around 12 hours at the time.
The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGO’s and the independent media, paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in the country’s 2018 general election.
RFA was unable to reach National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun for comment Tuesday, but he had previously urged victims to file complaints with the authorities and urged them to refrain from linking the attacks to politics. So far, only one case in Kampong Chhnang province has resulted in the arrest of suspects in an assault on a CNRP activist.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator with Cambodian human rights group Licadho, expressed concern about the attacks and the failure of police to bring perpetrators to justice. He urged the authorities to investigate the attacks to avoid criticism that they are politically discriminating against the opposition.
“When crimes are committed, regardless of whether the victims file complaints with authorities, the prosecutors must investigate, arrest suspects, and provide justice to the victims,’ he said.
The attack on Prak Seiha came days after another CNRP activist in Kandal province named Chan Tun was run over by a motorbike by a pair of unknown assailants.
Chan Tun, 69, is the father of fellow CNRP activist Tun Nimol, who is currently in detention on charges of “incitement.” He has regularly monitored his son’s trial and taken part in weekly protests with the so-called “Friday Wives” of other CNRP activists being tried on similar charges after speaking critically about the government.
According to Chan Tun, on Feb. 11, two men hit him with their motorbike, knocking him unconscious.
He told RFA the attack was organized “to stop [detained] victims’ relatives from seeking justice” for them, adding that he will not be intimidated and has no plans to file a complaint with the authorities.
“I urge the authorities … to reveal the suspects and prosecute them,” he said.
Chan Tun said he will continue to demand that the court release his son.
Fifteen on trial
Also, on Tuesday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court began the trial of 15 environmental activists and CNRP activists, questioning them over their communication with CNRP leadership living in self-imposed exile abroad and taking part in protests demanding the release of jailed union leader Rong Chhun, which led to their being charged with “incitement.”
Only 10 activists were present during Tuesday’s proceedings, which were adjourned until early March after they told Judge Tith Sothy Borachat that they didn’t understand his questions.
CNRP activist Chhou Pheng’s wife Dos Kimteang told reporters after the hearing that the defendants are innocent and urged the court to release them, citing conditions inside the prison where they are being held and the deterioration of their health.
“I believe he is innocent, so it there is no use in detaining him,” she said of her husband.
Defense lawyer Sam Sokong said his clients did not incite social chaos and had only called on the court to release Rong Chhun. Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions, was jailed at Prey Sar Prison on Aug. 1, a day after his arrest for claiming the government has allowed Vietnam to encroach on farmland along their shared border. He faces two years in prison if convicted.
Sam Sokkong noted that the defendants had already been held beyond the legal limit of pretrial detention.
“If the trial is delayed for two or three more months, it will seriously affect the defendants’ rights,” he said. “I think the court should release them on bail and continue the trial.”
Soeung Sengkaruna, spokesperson for local rights group Adhoc, told RFA that the defendants have routinely complained about the conditions they face in detention. He added that they should not have been charged with a crime.
“They were expressing their views as environmentalists and politicians who monitored and participated in the protests,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.