Police in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh have arrested the 15-year-old autistic son of a jailed member of the country’s banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) after he entered the party’s abandoned headquarters to collect flags, according to his mother.
The son of former senior CNRP member Kak Komphear was arrested by local police after he entered the party’s old headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Chak Angre Leu district on Sunday by climbing over a fence, his mother Prum Chantha told RFA’s Khmer Service, citing a statement by the authorities.
The police, who have yet to charge the boy, photographed him standing against a wall in handcuffs and the image has since been posted to social media and shared widely, she said.
Prum Chantha told RFA that authorities had unjustly targeted her family and urged them to release her son.
“He is a minor—just have him educated if he does something wrong,” she said.
“Why did the police have to handcuff and detain him? Maybe he likes flags and that was why he entered the building.”
RFA was unable to contact the Phnom Penh Municipal Police for comment on the case Monday.
Ny Sokha of local rights group Adhoc, told RFA that collecting flags is not illegal and suggested that the arrest of a teenaged autistic boy shows authorities are “paranoid” about the opposition.
“The authorities are too worried, and they appear to be biased toward [the ruling] political party,” he said. “We can see that they don’t like opposition party elements.”
Koul Panha, an advisor for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) told RFA it was “inappropriate and indecent” to arrest the boy and also urged the public not to distribute his photo on social media.
“Giving him an education should be enough if the authorities believe his action of collecting the flags was wrong,” he said.
“Moreover, he is a minor. Posting and circulating his photo in public is wrong because it can negatively impact his future.”
The boy’s detention comes less than five months after the May 31 arrest of his father, Kak Komphear, who had attempted to flee Phnom Penh for Takeo province after living in hiding for more than a year. He was ordered to pre-trial detention in Prey Sar Prison on charges of “plotting” and “incitement to commit a felony” under Articles 453, 494, and 495 of Cambodia’s penal code, according to his arrest warrant.
In a separate case, dating from January last year, Kak Komphear was convicted in absentia for “instigating insult” and “incitement to commit a felony” under Articles 28, 494, 495, and 502 of Cambodia’s penal code and sentenced to 20 months in prison. The charges were based on allegations that he had taken part in an election boycott campaign that the government said was part of a coup by the CNRP.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after leader Kem Sokha’s arrest, for its role in opposition leader’s alleged scheme. The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
At least 17 CNRP members have been detained in Prey Sar Prison since the start of the coronavirus pandemic on charges of “incitement” for comments they made deemed critical of Hun Sen’s leadership.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.