Police said Wednesday they arrested a 33-year-old man in Banteay Meanchey province on Monday for his alleged involvement with the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF) and seized several hundred copies of a banned manifesto written by the group’s founder.
The arrest of Hen Chan in Poipet City comes a month after 12 men and one woman from the dissident group were found guilty of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced to between five and nine years in prison.
National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith said Mr. Chan was apprehended at the border while using a fake passport.
“Mr. Chan was arrested in Poipet City with some documents against the Royal Government of Cambodia and a list containing the structure of KNLF members,” he said.
“Those documents encourage the public [to act] against the Cambodian People’s Party and government of Cambodia and incited the public against the CPP and Vietnam,” Lt. Gen. Chantharith said, adding that Mr. Chan was sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning Wednesday morning and is being detained at the Ministry of Interior.
The KNLF was founded in December 2012 as a pro-democracy political advocacy group that opposed the ruling CPP. After several members were arrested in Thailand and spirited to Cambodia to face charges in March last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly branded the group a terrorist organization that existed only to try and topple the government.
According to the judgment rendered last month at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the KNLF “was created to act against the government.”
Six of the members in the latest case were tried in absentia. Among them was KNLF President Sam Serey, who lives in Denmark and claims he was granted political asylum from Cambodia in 2010. He also authored a book called “The Mystery of Cambodia,” which he says is banned in Cambodia, and copies of which were confiscated from Mr. Chan on Wednesday.
Reached by telephone in Denmark on Wednesday, Mr. Serey said he was “very sad” to hear about the arrest of Mr. Chan, who he said he first met at a seminar in Thailand in 2010.
“I think this threatens the freedom of expression of the Cambodian people,” he said of the latest arrest. “We have the right to express our opinions according to the law, and it is not illegal. We have the right to run a political group, so when they arrest our members, it threatens the politics and freedoms in Cambodia.”
Mr. Serey said he had been informed by a colleague in Thailand that Mr. Chan’s Kompong Speu house had been searched by police, who confiscated hundreds of copies of “The Mystery of Cambodia” as well as other documents.
“About 2,000 copies of the book were printed in Thailand, and he brought around 300 to Cambodia,” Mr. Serey said.
“He wanted to try to distribute them in Cambodia. That book is banned in Cambodia. If someone reads it or holds it, they would be arrested,” he added.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said he has been told that Mr. Chan is an asylum seeker with the U.N.’s refugee agency in Thailand. Vivian Tan, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Thailand, could not be reached for comment.
“I have not yet been able to confirm this status with UNHCR, but if he was seeking refugee status, it was obviously not a terribly wise move to try to sneak back into Cambodia,” Mr. Robertson said by email, adding that the government has been “vigorously” pursuing KNLF members without providing any concrete evidence of insurrectionary activities.
“So far, the KNLF has been a victim of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s conspiracy theories that uses fabricated enemies to manufacture political crises that supposedly require his strong arm to put down,” he said.
“The Mystery of Cambodia,” Mr. Robertson said, does not indicate any violent intent on the part of the KNLF, despite its invective toward the government.
The 52-page manifesto, which is available online, was written “to illustrate and indicate the root of the problems in Cambodia and to show the Cambodian people about what the dictator and the communist try to hide from the Cambodian people,” according to an excerpt.
It also accuses Vietnam of invading Cambodia, and calls Mr. Hun Sen’s rule an “illegal puppet regime.”
“It’s important for Cambodians to know about this book, because it tells the truth about what has been happening in Cambodia for the past 35 years,” Mr. Serey said.
crothers@cambodiadaily.com, mengleng@cambodiadaily.com
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