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Cambodia

Cambodia urged to free dissidents deported from Thailand

Cambodian refugees hiding in Bangkok say surveillance and threats have been ramped up

UCA News reporter, Phnom Penh

UCA News reporter, Phnom Penh

Published: November 12, 2021 09:21 AM GMT

Updated: November 12, 2021 09:32 AM GMT

Cambodia urged to free dissidents deported from Thailand

Voeung Samnang shared Facebook posts criticizing Cambodia's government. (Photo: Facebook)

Human rights groups have urged Cambodian authorities to immediately drop “politically motivated charges” against activists Veourn Veasna and Voeung Samnang, who were forcibly returned by Thai immigration authorities this week.

Both men are tied to the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and were deported despite the intervention of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees where they had registered under refugee protection.

“Thailand’s forcible return of these two refugees shows a blatant disregard for fundamental refugee protection principles,” said Bill Frelick, the refugee and migrants director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The Thai government’s actions make it complicit in the Cambodian government’s persecution of its political opponents, which appears to extend beyond Cambodia’s borders.”

He said both men should be immediately and unconditionally released, adding that Thai immigration officials had also put them at risk of unfair trials in Cambodia.

Hundreds of CNRP officials and other dissidents have been rounded up and detained on charges ranging from incitement to treason since the opposition party was dissolved by the courts in late 2017.

While Thailand is not a party to the Refugee Convention, it is bound to the principle of non-refoulement under customary international law

The long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party then won every seat contested at elections the following year. Since then arrests have persisted, gaining momentum after opposition leader in exile Sam Rainsy declared he would return to Cambodia and stage a popular uprising.

Prime Minister Hun Sen recently warned his government “will do what it takes to crack down” on dissidents planning protests against his authoritarian rule when Cambodia takes its turn chairing the Association of South East Nations in 2022.

HRW said authorities had transferred both men to the Correctional Center 1 in Phnom Penh.

It said Voeung Samnang had created several Facebook accounts and pages under his name on which he shared posts by Sam Rainsy that criticized the Cambodian government on various political issues, including the government’s Covid-19 response.

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Veourn Veasna also created several Facebook accounts and pages under the name “Kranhoung Prey Lang.” A poem he wrote labeling Hun Sen a traitor led the prime minister to call for Veasna’s arrest in October.

HRW noted the international refugee law principle of non-refoulement provides that no one should be returned to a country where they are likely to face persecution, torture or other serious harm.

“In recent months, Cambodian refugees hiding in Bangkok have reported escalating levels of surveillance and threats by unidentified people whom they believe are Cambodian officials,” it said in a statement.

It said the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Cambodia is a party, prohibits the return of a refugee “in any manner whatsoever,” which would include extradition.

“While Thailand is not a party to the Refugee Convention, it is bound to the principle of non-refoulement under customary international law.”

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