8 activists held in Cambodia

Kem Sokha, the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s deputy leader. Source: Flickr

Cambodia’s police have arrested eight human rights activists, including two foreigners, in a crackdown on protests linked to a political sex scandal.

Eight people, including the deputy director of prominent domestic human rights group Licadho and a Swede and a German, who also work for the group, were detained as they tried to protest outside a prison in Phnom Penh, said Am Sam Ath of Licadho.

“The government is scared by its own shadow,” Am Sam Ath said.

The foreigners, German Mathias Pfeifer and Swede Anna Maria Pettersson, had been handed to the immigration police, he added, but the group was later released after signing documents “promising not to do illegal activities”.

Chief of investigations at the immigration department, Major General Uk Heisela, said the foreigners were arrested for wearing black and sent to the immigration department for failing to produce their passports.

“They were wearing black shirts and could not produce any documents so police decided to send them for questioning at the immigration department,” the police commander said.

General Khieu Sopheak defended the police action and condemned “arrogant” activists.

“Like you know, their group broadcasted to incite the people to wear black for Monday to release officials,” the general said. “They went crazy with freedom of expression. They did not think they are under the law that controls them. They are the people who violate the law.

“Do you want it like Syria? Do you want it like Libya?” Sopheak said.

“You receive small amounts of money from overseas: You are arrogant. You are drunk with human rights and bring war into the country. It is impossible. Please stay in the prison,” he added.

Protesters dressed in black and called on the government to release five human rights campaigners detained for a week in connection with a sex scandal that has rocked the kingdom’s political opposition.

Opposition parliamentarian Kem Sokha, the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s deputy leader, was accused of having an affair with a 25-year-old hairdresser.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration is accused of fabricating the scandal to smear his enemies, a charge the authorities deny.

The woman was at first helped by rights activists when recordings of her conversations with Kem Sokha were leaked online two months ago, attracting police attention.

She later accused the human rights groups of telling her to deny the affair for money after the Cambodian anti-terrorism police grilled her.

Five activists were subsequently arrested last week after being charged with bribery, a charge they deny.

On Sunday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng warned police that NGOs were inciting a “black-uniform campaign” and ordered them to “prevent the movement that could lead to chaos and unrest”.

A UN officer, Sally Soen, who was also charged with being an accomplice to the alleged bribery, is unlikely to be arrested because she is covered by diplomatic immunity.

Kem Sokha has not commented on the allegations.