A court in Cambodia sent an opposition activist recently deported back to the country from Thailand to pre-trial detention over his online criticism of the government and its leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen, his lawyer told RFA.
Mich Heang, a member of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested in Thailand with two other Cambodian workers on Nov. 20 and delivered to Cambodian authorities at the border the next day.
The other two migrants were released by Cambodian authorities, but Mich Heang was sent to the Interior Ministry’s National Police Commissariat General for further interrogation.
His lawyer, Sam Sok Kong, told RFA’s Khmer Service Sunday that the Phnom Penh municipal court charged Mich Heang with conspiracy.
The veteran activist had criticized Hun Sen’s government on social media while living in Thailand.
“He was placed under pre-trial detention by the court. His family contacted me for legal assistance,” the lawyer said.
Since Mich Heang’s forced repatriation, neither his family nor his lawyer have been able to visit him, but Sam Sok Kong said Sunday he planned to meet him at the prison on Monday.
While living in Thailand as a migrant worker, Mich Heang was an active supporter of the CNRP. He was particularly vocal about the need to end impunity in Cambodia which allows perpetrators of crimes against activists and journalists to go unpunished.
He was regularly critical of the government on social media, including on topics relating to social injustice, the rights of migrant workers, and governmental restrictions on civil and political activities.
Placing Mich Heang in detention for his political views is wrong, and the Thai government should not have deported him, Ny Sokha, president of the local Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association told RFA.
“Thailand has shown its failure to thoroughly respect the U.N. refugee convention. She fails to show to the world her commitment to humanitarianism in terms of helping protect refugees fleeing Cambodia to escape from political persecution,” he said.
“If Thai authorities continue to deport people like this, I think we can say Thailand can no longer be considered as a safe country for political refugees anymore,” Ny Sokha said.
In a statement last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees voiced concern over Thailand’s treatment of other native Cambodians in recent weeks.
“We are extremely alarmed by this trend of forcibly returning refugees to Cambodia, where they face a serious risk of persecution,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection.
Thailand this month arrested Cambodian activists Voeun Veasna, Voeung Samnang and Lahn Thavry and quickly sent them back to Cambodia.
A Thai government spokesman last week defended the deportations, calling them consistent with Thailand’s foreign policy.
RFA attempted to contact Chhay Kim Khoeun, spokesperson for the National Police Commissariat General, and Plang Sophal, spokesperson for Phnom Penh Municipal Court, but neither could be reached.
Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Eugene Whong.