The 15-year-old autistic son of a jailed member of Cambodia’s banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said Tuesday he was beaten by police while in custody after being arrested for entering the party’s abandoned headquarters to collect flags.
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, according to the authorities.
The boy was released Tuesday without charge after being forced to sign a letter confessing that he had been “wrong to illegally enter a prohibited place” and vowing to refrain from doing so in the future. Government-affiliated media outlet Fresh News later posted a video of him reading the confession aloud on its website and apologizing for “causing mischief.”
The forced confession came after police photographed him standing against a wall in handcuffs during his arrest—an image that has since been posted to social media and shared widely, prompting calls from rights groups to protect his identity because he is a minor.
Following his release on Tuesday, Kak Komphear’s son told RFA’s Khmer Service that the police in Chak Angre Leu had “beaten” him while he was in handcuffs.
“They handcuffed me in a way that caused wounds to my wrists,” he said, without elaborating.
“I just want to fight for my country. The wounds do not hurt badly.”
Phnom Penh Police Commission spokesperson San Sok Seyha said police brought the boy in for questioning about what he was doing in a prohibited place.
“Competent authorities brought him in to question him and find out if he stole any property when entered the building,” he said.
“They released him this morning when they found that he was not involved in any theft.”
San Sok Seyha denied that the boy was beaten by police while in custody.
Kak Komphear’s wife Prum Chantha told RFA that her son had done nothing wrong and said the police had abused the rights of a minor with disabilities.
“They put handcuffs on my son—that is violating the child’s rights. This country does not even respect the rights of a child.”
Prum Chantha said that after her son was released, the two of them went to visit Kak Komphear in prison.
“His father wept after he realized his son was arrested and was injured by the police handcuffs,” she said.
“Upon seeing his father crying, my son tried to console him, telling him to be strong.”
Ny Sokha of local rights group Adhoc told RFA forcing the boy to sign a confession in exchange for his release is wrong and a form of pressure on a minor.
“In general, if a criminal is arrested, he cannot be released by signing a letter of agreement like that,” he said.
“If [the authorities] felt they had no proper reason to arrest him, they should have released him without making him sign such a letter.”
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.
Also on Tuesday, six Cambodian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) issued a joint statement urging Minister of Interior Sar Kheng to take action to stop local authorities from harassing NGOs and unions, less than a week after Cambodia dismissed a U.N. Human Rights Council report accusing the government of sending police to monitor human rights gatherings, intimidating participants and organizers.
The Coalition of Cambodia Apparel, Cambodia Labor Confederation, Central, Cambodia Trade Union Federation, Coalition of Cambodia Farmer Community, and Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association said police from Phnom Penh’s Mean Chey district had come to their offices and demanded that they hand over for inspection ID cards, passports, foreign visas, and a list of their organizational structure, including photos of Cambodian and foreign staff.
“We believe the actions by Mean Chey authorities and other local authorities to update their lists of our staff identifications, including their photos, run contrary to the Law on Association and Nongovernmental Organizations (LANGO), which says that we are only required to give such information to the Ministries of Interior, Labor, and Economy,” the statement read.
Cambodia Trade Union Federation president Yang Sophoan told RFA she believes authorities sought to threaten and intimidate her staff and demanded that they speak with the Ministry of Labor, which she said already has all of the relevant information about her organization.
“It seems what they have done so far is a show of strength to intimidate or threaten us,” she said.
Late last month, Mean Chey District Police Chief Meng Vimeandara sent a letter to the six NGOs informing them that they should prepare documents in cooperation with local authorities as they update their statistics on local and foreign staff, as well as organizational structure, from Oct. 3 on. When the NGOs refused to respond, authorities said they would proceed with the process without any schedule.
RFA was unable to reach Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak for comment Tuesday. However, Mean Chey District Security Police Chief Phin Phal had previously told RFA that the police must register NGO statistics to more easily manage staff residing in the district.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of the rights group Licadho, told RFA the police actions amount to a threat against local NGOs, which have already registered with the Ministry of Interior.
“The LANGO does not state that the authorities can monitor the number of NGO staff,” he said.
“Continuing to do so will constitute a threat and intimidation and will affect the NGOs’ work.”
‘Acts of intimidation’
Last week, Cambodia was cited in a report by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the Geneva-based Human Right Council on instances where governments punished their citizens for cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms and representatives.
“In Cambodia, we continue to receive reports of acts of intimidation against civil society and human rights organizations, which impede their capacity to monitor and report—including to this Council,” said the country-specific section of the global report.
The Office of the U.N. Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) found that local rights groups were afraid to associate and with U.N. rights monitors for fear of reprisals, according to the report, based on events in 2019. Rhona Smith, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia, was quoted as saying training sessions and gatherings her office hosted were shadowed by security agents.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum and Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.