A member of Cambodia’s banned opposition party was attacked by unknown assailants on Wednesday, causing severe injuries and making him the twelfth opposition activist assaulted since acting party president Sam Rainsy announced plans to return from self-imposed exile in November.
Sin Bona, an activist with the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was attacked in broad daylight while riding his motorbike on a street in the capital Phnom Penh by two men wielding a metal pipe and a handgun, his daughter, Bona Sophea told RFA’s Khmer Service.
The men knocked Sin Bona off of his bike before beating him, she said, adding that his bike helmet had protected him from suffering more severe wounds.
“My father’s left hand was broken and will require surgery,” she said.
According to Bona Sophea, her father “has no dispute with anyone” and may have been targeted because of his former role as an elected commune official with the CNRP, who was forced to give up his position after Cambodia’s Supreme Court banned the party in November 2017 for its role in an alleged plot to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
The move against the political opposition, along with a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election. Hun Sen has been in power since 1985.
“I hope that authorities will give him justice,” Bona Sophea said of her father.
“I am very sad to this happened to him, as he never had any problems in the past,” she said, adding that she has yet to file a complaint with authorities because she has been busy caring for Sin Bona at the hospital.
Authorities have stepped up harassment of CNRP activists and supporters since Sam Rainsy announced that he will return to Cambodia on Nov. 9 to lead a “restoration of democracy” in the country, detaining 29 since the beginning of the year and subjecting at least 158 to interrogation over the same period.
Pouk Chenda, the chief of Sam Rainsy’s bodyguard detail, was assaulted by two unknown men on Sunday morning who beat him with an iron bar as he returned home from a market near the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh, leaving him with a serious head wound that required stitches.
The attacks on Sin Bona and Pouk Chenda are the latest of a dozen targeting CNRP activists and supporters in recent weeks—all of which have involved assailants assaulting victims from behind, typically while riding motorbikes. Police have yet to arrest any suspects in the cases.
Morn Sophalla, the CNRP’s chief in Phnom Penh, on Wednesday suggested that the CPP had orchestrated the attacks to sow fear among the opposition’s activist community, but warned that such tactics would only anger the public against the government.
“Phnom Penh’s regime is using the tactics of Pol Pot, who used his spies to persecute innocent people,” he said, referring to the leader of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime who oversaw the killing of nearly two million people during its 1975-79 reign of terror in Cambodia.
Morn Sophalla said he doesn’t trust the authorities in Phnom Penh to make any arrests in the attacks because of “discrimination” against the opposition.
Am Sam Ath, the deputy director of Cambodian rights group LICADHO, urged authorities to bring suspects in the attacks to justice, telling RFA that failure to do so would lead to public criticism of Hun Sen’s government.
“If the government repeatedly fails to arrest suspects in the cases, it cannot avoid criticism and will be accused of using the tactics of fear and political discrimination against opposition party members,” he said.
National Police Commission spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but CPP spokesman Sok Ey San denied that the attacks were political in nature.
“This is yet another kind of libel against the government,” he said.
“Government authorities provide security to the people and would never provoke any violent action against them.”
The latest attack comes as the CNRP launched a “nine fingers” campaign, referring to the planned Nov. 9 date of return for Sam Rainsy, which the opposition has said is meant to coincide with the 66th anniversary of Cambodia’s independence from France, and which the government has labeled part of a “coup” by the banned party.
Former CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann announced the campaign on Facebook Monday, saying that supporters should raise nine fingers “at every meeting and for every greeting” until Sam Rainsy’s return, and to spread word about it on social media.
CNRP activist Sor Chandeth told RFA that the campaign will foster unity within the party.
“The authorities have threatened us, saying not to meet [for political talks], so now we are showing our support on our fingers,” he said.
The Phnom Penh Post quoted CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin, and government spokesman Phay Siphan as saying that the campaign would fail, and that it amounted to backing a plot to stage a coup, which carries a punishment of between five and 10 years in prison.
Meanwhile, Rhona Smith, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, on Wednesday expressed concerns over the state of civil and political rights in Cambodia, including the ban on the CNRP, urging the government to reverse course and ensure a fully inclusive society based on democratic principles and human rights.
Speaking to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Smith called on Hun Sen’s regime to “reset the approach to rights and freedoms in Cambodia and ensure that all rights and freedoms voluntarily accepted by the government are enjoyed by everyone in the country.”
“Human rights are, by definition, about people. Not politics,” she said, noting that the votes of the 42 percent of Cambodians who voted for the CNRP at the communal level “remains denied and yet to be remedied.”
Smith urged Cambodia to release CNRP President Kem Sokha, who was arrested two months prior to the Supreme Court’s 2017 ban on his party, from de facto house arrest, where he has been held awaiting trial on charges of treason. She called for a “swift conclusion” to the investigation of his case to ensure that he is tried within a reasonable time, or for the charges against him to be dropped.
She also slammed the government’s recent arrests and summonses of the more than 100 former members of the CNRP charged with offense related to engaging in political discussions or activities contrary to the party ban.
“The summonses and charges against these people are vague and unclear, raising concerns not only for the freedom of expression and association and political rights, but also for the right to a fair trial,” she said.
Smith also called for an all-inclusive debate of policies “as the best way to achieve peace and development in a sustainable manner.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.