Authorities in Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province released an activist with the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on bail Friday after he “confessed” in a televised statement to taking orders from the party’s acting president Sam Rainsy to organize a coup.
Ros Kimsreang, a CNRP Youth Movement Leader, was freed on bail by the Kampong Thom Provincial Court after he confessed to recently meeting with Sam Rainsy in Malaysia, where he said that the CNRP chief ordered him to “gather youth forces to fight back against the authorities.”
“Recently, Sam Rainsy continued to appeal to people to revolt against the government and [King Norodom Sihamoni]—this is treason,” Ros Kimsreang said in the confession, which was recorded on video by the government’s spokesman unit and later aired on Television Khmer, a private government-affiliated television station.
Authorities have stepped up harassment of CNRP activists and supporters since August, when the party announced Sam Rainsy’s plan to return to Cambodia from self-imposed exile on Nov. 9, calling on supporters and members of the armed forces to join him, but Prime Minister Hun Sen and other leaders in his government have vowed to arrest the CNRP chief as soon as he sets foot inside the country.
Senior CNRP official Sor Chandeth told RFA that Ros Kimsreang was likely “forced to make a false confession” out of concern for his own personal safety.
He drew comparisons between Hun Sen’s authorities and the Khmer Rouge regime, whose leadership oversaw the killing of nearly two million Cambodians and routinely forced people to confess their “crimes” during its 1975-79 reign of terror.
“He was forced,” Sor Chandeth said. “It wasn’t made of his own will.”
Ros Kimsreang’s confession and release on bail came as government-affiliated newspaper Fresh News posted on its website the video “confession” of another CNRP activist, Hong Samcheat, who recently received a warrant for his arrest related to his support for Sam Rainsy’s return.
“I would like to declare that I am not involved with any violent actions to topple the government,” Hong Somcheat said in the video, which Fresh News published along with a statement which said that the activist had not been subjected to any form of intimidation.
The CNRP says Sam Rainsy is returning to lead a “restoration of democracy” in Cambodia, following the arrest of party president Kem Soka on charges of treason in September 2017 and the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the CNRP two months later for its role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government.
The ban on 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.
In a recent interview, Sam Rainsy referred to King Norodom Sihamoni as Hun Sen’s “puppet,” leading to a conviction for “insulting the king” in absentia. The conviction was the latest move against him by Cambodia’s courts, which in September charged him and seven other CNRP officials, as well as his wife, with “attempting to stage a coup” in connection with his planned return.
Hun Sen’s government on Friday reiterated threats of arrest against Sam Rainsy and any CNRP activists who express support for his repatriation.
“No matter what the cost, Hun Sen won’t allow any plots of a coup to go unpunished,” a statement issued by Cambodia’s Council of Ministers.
“Hun Sen will take all necessary measures against treason,” including against those who use social media to gather support, the statement said.
Police have made multiple arrests of Sam Rainsy’s supporters in recent weeks, bringing to at least 34 the number of CNRP activists detained since the beginning of the year and at least 174 the number subjected to interrogation over the same period, and prompting calls from Western governments and rights groups for an end to the mistreatment. At least five activists are currently in hiding amid the crackdown.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.