09/09/2020, 09.49
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On the streets for freedom and rights: Cambodian activists arrested

A Buddhist monk and a famous local rapper also detained. Protests over the detentions of opponents and the management of the border issue with Vietnam. The United Nations warns: respect the "right to freedom of expression and peaceful association".

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Cambodian authorities have arrested at least six activists in recent days, including a Buddhist monk and a famous local rapper and musician. They were arrested for organizing protests over the ongoing border dispute with Vietnam. International NGOs and local movements sound the alarm for a growing repression of rights and freedom of expression in the Asian country.

In a note, the Cambodian Ministry of the Interior reports that the six arrested will have to answer for various charges, including "instigation to commit a crime and create chaos in society" based on articles 494 and 495 of the Penal Code. "“Khmer Thavarak and the Mother Nature NGO have been working to incite people to provoke instability and social unrest by using social media and other means to disseminate information,” the ministry said.

The age-old problem of the 1,228-kilometer border between Vietnam and Cambodia is a very sensitive issue for Cambodians, who see the Vietnamese as the cause of their troubles in the recent past (war, Khmer Rouge, and now economic colonization). The borders between the two countries have never been very precise. In 2006, the two governments tried to define them by seeking an agreement and this came at the expense of some groups of Cambodians, who lost their lands in a disputed area.

In the province of Tboung Khmum, Khmer Thavarak, affiliated with the (banned) opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested. Since 7 September he has been held in the Prey Sar prison. The same day saw the arrest of Mean Prommony, vice-president of the Khmer Student League, and of the venerable Koet Saray; the two were organizing a protest march to be held in Freedom Park in Phnom Penh to demand the release of trade unionist Rong Chhun, who has been in prison since July 31.

The 22-year-old rapper and musician Kea Sokun, famous for his popular song "Khmer Land" in which he criticizes the government for managing the border issue with Vietnam, has also been in custody since 4 September. He will have to answer for the accusation of incitement to violence.

Commenting on the arrests, Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, wrote in a Facebook post that “The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are protected by international human rights norms and standards as well as by the Cambodian Constitution.” “I encourage Cambodian authorities to ensure that these rights are respected and protected and to create an environment in which individuals are able to exercise these rights. I urge that those arrested are promptly brought before a court of law and their due process rights are fully respected,” she said.

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