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Cambodia: Young activists targeted in shocking new wave of arrests

Amnesty International today called on the Cambodian authorities to immediately stop their relentless assault on young human rights defenders.

In the past few weeks, ten young activists – including a Buddhist monk and a musician – have been arbitrarily detained and charged with ‘incitement’ after peacefully expressing their political opinions.

Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of Campaigns, said:

“These arrests are a shocking, all-out assault on Cambodia’s youth. Instead of encouraging the new generation of young Cambodians to fully participate in shaping the country’s future, Hun Sen’s government is determined to stamp out dissent in all walks of Cambodian life, from the clergy to the arts.

“Cambodian youth are saying loud and clear that they will not be silenced; they will not be intimidated; and that they have had enough. These daring young activists are standing up for the ideals of justice, equality and human rights. They must be protected and encouraged.”


Spate of arrests

On Friday, three environmental human rights defenders affiliated with activist group Mother Nature Cambodia - Thun Ratha, a 28-year-old man, Long Kunthea, a 22-year-old woman, and Phuong Keorasmey, a 19-year-old woman - were arrested and later charged with “incitement to commit a felony”. 

The arrests occurred as Long Kunthea sought to conduct a one-woman procession through Phnom Penh towards the residence of Prime Minister Hun Sen, with the stated aim of discussing environmental concerns with him.

Also on Friday, 22-year old rapper Kea Sokun was arrested in Siem Reap and charged. Sokun is understood to have been targeted on the basis of a song he released in April called ‘Dey Khmer’ (which translates to ‘Khmer Land’) in which he commented on long-running sensitivities regarding the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. The song reached 1.3 million views on YouTube before being deleted under unknown circumstances. Other versions of the song were later re-posted on YouTube. 

In addition, at least five political activists and one trade unionist have been arbitrarily detained since the end of July amid an escalating crackdown on all forms of dissent.

Prominent human rights defender Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was arrested on 31 July and charged with incitement after commenting publicly on land rights concerns at the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. 

On 13 August, two youth activists from Khmer Thavrak – Hun Vannak, a 38-year-old man and Chhouen Daravy, a 28-year-old woman – were arrested while calling for the release of Rong Chhun. Hun Vannak has previously been imprisoned in retaliation for his work to expose illegal sand dredging and its impact on local communities in Cambodia. 

On Sunday, 6 September, two more human rights defenders – Venerable Koet Saray, a Buddhist monk, and Mean Prommony, vice-president of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association, were also arrested in Phnom Penh, apparently in retaliation for planning a demonstration at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park to call for the release of Rong Chhun. 

All ten detainees are considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, meaning they have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their protected human rights. Amnesty International calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

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