The family of an activist with the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who died three months ago while being taken into custody by authorities called Friday on court authorities to expedite an investigation into her case and provide them with justice.
Sam Bopha, 48, from Svay Rieng province had been involved in an argument with her husband in October last year after his father—a former elected official with the CNRP—“confessed” to authorities about acting party chief Sam Rainsy’s planned return on Nov. 9 to “restore democracy” in Cambodia, which the government had labelled part of a “coup attempt” and ultimately blocked.
Sam Bopha’s father-in-law filed a domestic abuse complaint against her with the police, who came to detain her at her home, but she was killed after she fell from an officer’s motorbike en route to the local station, her brother Sam Dina told RFA’s Khmer Service at the time, suggesting that the arrest appeared “politically motivated” because of the large police response to a family dispute.
Sam Dina said in October that police ignored his sister’s pleas that she was sick, and that her health condition likely led to her falling from the motorbike. She sustained serious injuries in the fall and died before reaching a local hospital.
On Friday, Sam Dina told RFA that he had filed a complaint with the provincial court on Nov. 9 and was only questioned by the court at the time, but never received any response, and urged authorities to speed up his sister’s case.
“I’m afraid that Cambodia has no rule of law,” he said, warning that if the two police officer he believes are responsible for his sister’s death are not held to account “they will likely continue to commit crimes.”
Sam Bopha’s family has asked for U.S. $30,000 in compensation for her death and for the suspects to be prosecuted.
Svay Rieng Provincial Court’s Chief Secretariat Tep Phalla told RFA he is not aware of the case and referred further inquiries to the court’s chief prosecutor, who could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Speaking to RFA, Nuth Bopinaroth, the provincial coordinator for local rights group Licadho, said that Sam Bopha’s case is being delayed “because it involves a police officer,” and said it was wrong for authorities to arrest her when she was ill.
“She should have been treated first,” he said.
“The police were wrong to force her [to go] … and must be held accountable in the case.”
The call for the Svay Rieng Court to speed up its investigation into Sam Bopha’s case came as CNRP activists warned that they have come under intense monitoring by police following an order from National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun for local authorities to scrutinize those he said are working to “incite anarchy” in the country.
Neth Savoeun’s Jan. 16 directive, which was released to the public on Friday, called for vigilance and increased security during the Jan. 24-27 Lunar New Year celebration.
“The National Police Commission advises the directors of judicial police … to strengthen measures to protect security and order by focusing on a few issues, such as the collection of information related to security and public order—and especially to determine the motives of any activities that might provoke security issues or social chaos,” the statement said.
Responding to the directive on Friday, the CNRP’s Phnom Penh chief Morn Phalla told RFA that authorities will use the order to persecute his party at the local level, adding that local activists have complained to him that they are “being watched” and feel “vulnerable to police arrest.”
“There are two intentions in the order: One is to prevent people from revolting against the government, and the other is to prevent the future repatriation of Sam Rainsy,” he said.
“The police measure is more related to the intimidation of the opposition.”
Morn Phalla urged authorities to stop targeting supporters of the CNRP.
In September 2017, Cambodian authorities arrested CNRP President Kem Sokha for “attempting to topple the government,” and the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP two months later for its role in the alleged plot.
The move to dissolve the CNRP was part of a wider crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that 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.
Since the election, authorities have detained several CNRP activists over allegations of “treason” and have restricted or surveilled others, while appearing to turn a blind eye to physical assaults against at least 14 party supporters by unknown assailants believed to be associated with the CPP.
On Friday, National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Chhay Kim Khoeun denied Morn Phalla’s allegations, saying the police order was meant only to address security concerns and was not politically motivated.
“If they don’t abuse the law, no one will bother them,” he said.
However, Licadho senior investigator Am Sam Ath told RFA that the CNRP is being “persecuted” by the ruling party, so their concerns are “valid.”
He expressed concern that the police order will extend beyond the Lunar New Year celebration and impact the potential return of Sam Rainsy from self-imposed exile in Paris, France, where he has lived since 2015 to avoid a string of what he says are politically motivated charges and convictions.
“Now the CNRP is preparing its strategy for second repatriation attempt and I am concerned that the activists living inside Cambodia will be persecuted,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.