PHNOM PENH — Cambodian authorities arrested six political activists over the weekend for alleged plots to rally in support of former opposition politician Sam Rainsy if he returns from exile as planned in November, police said on Monday.
The latest arrests bring to 26 the number of activists for the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who have been detained this year.
Critics have called Cambodia essentially a one-party state since the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in late 2017, months before elections last year in which longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party won all of the seats in parliament.
The European Union then warned that it may strip Cambodia of its “Everything but Arms” duty-free trading access.
The CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, has been detained for two years, the past year under house arrest, while awaiting trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
CNRP founder Sam Rainsy has said he will return to Cambodia on Nov. 9, four years after fleeing to France following a conviction for criminal defamation in which he was ordered to pay $1 million in compensation. He also faces a five-year prison sentence in a separate case.
Cambodian police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said 26 CNRP activists had been arrested so far this year for alleged plans to hold demonstrations and prevent authorities arresting Rainsy.
“From before to now, they all have plans to cause incitement against the royal government. They polluted the situation, causing fears in society,” Kim Khoeun told Reuters.
He said the detained suspects had also tried to pay people to oppose authorities if they attempt to arrest Rainsy.
“As the latest, they also organized forces to go against court warrants and authorities, including recruiting people with payment,” Kim Khoeun said. “There is enough evidence.”
In a weekend statement, the CNRP said six of its activists had been arrested within the last two days without arrest warrants, calling these “unjust” and demanding immediate releases.
“As the date of the return of CNRP leaders has been fixed, they intensify their actions,” said CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua. “The use of the judiciary to arbitrarily arrest and dig up old cases against the opposition has become a daily event.” (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul Editing by Mark Heinrich)