CNRP activists’ wives protest in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on July 24. (Photo: Radio Free Asia)
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summoned 129 officials of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to appear for trial on Nov. 26 after authorities broke up more protests held by the “Friday Wives.”
On most Fridays in recent weeks, the wives of detained activists from the banned CNRP have gathered in front of the Royal Palace and urged King Norodom Sihamoni to grant clemency to their spouses.
Ouk Chanthy, wife of CNRP member Yim Sareth, told Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service she was kicked in the leg during one confrontation, leaving her unable to walk.
She said her husband had been detained for eight months despite committing no crime and she had suffered both mentally and physically after several protests were violently dispersed by authorities.
“I would like to call on national and international organizations, as well as the king, to please help us — we are women,” she said.
The monarch has refrained from commenting on the arrests, which follow a failed bid by the CNRP’s exiled leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia where he pledged he would lead a “tsunami of supporters,” arrest Prime Minister Hun Sen and rescue Cambodia from one-party rule.
That attempt, in November last year, was thwarted after airlines refused Sam Rainsy access to flights into Cambodia. He has since said he would make a second attempt but has declined to say when or how.
Meanwhile, a court official said one group of 61 former CNRP officials will join a second list of 68 others to be charged with treason. In total, 129 CNRP officials will be tried on Nov. 26 on charges of conspiring to commit treason and inciting serious social insecurity.
The charges are felonies and carry sentences of up to 12 years in jail.
Among those charged is Theary Seng, a prominent Christian and pro-democracy activist whose work includes editing a Khmer version of the Bible.
She says she is prepared to go to jail, adding: “Hun Sen and his cronies are afraid of Sam Rainsy returning to continue to do politics in Cambodia.”
Hun Sen has claimed Sam Rainsy and the CNRP were fomenting a color revolution, dating back to the 2013 election when the opposition were close to winning the popular vote.
The CNRP refused to accept the result and violent unrest followed, resulting in the courts dissolving the party and Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party winning every seat contested at the 2018 election.
An international outcry by human rights activists followed and the European Union withdrew some trade preferences amid calls for a restoration of democracy.
Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, has said she was alarmed by credible reports that rights defenders had been subjected to threats, arbitrary arrests and detentions in Cambodia in recent months.
Last week eight US lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on the outgoing Donald Trump administration to impose targeted sanctions against senior Cambodian officials and to follow the EU’s lead by revoking the country’s trade privileges.