Former Cambodia National Rescue Party official Oeur Narith was released on Monday after being questioned for two days in police custody, labeling the detention as an attempt to intimidate him.
Oeur Narith, who was an assistant to former CNRP vice presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang, was arrested Saturday afternoon near Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh District, he told VOA Khmer on Tuesday. Police informed him that the questioning was related to an old, personal financial dispute.
“It is an old case from 2012,” Narith said, not wanting to divulge details of the dispute. “I am no longer implicated in that case because I think it is over and nothing more after we have resolved that.”
Oeur Narith’s questioning in the most recent in a long line of arrests, convictions, and intimidation of officials and supporters of the dissolved CNRP. Close to two dozen former party officials have been arrested or convicted in recent months, mostly on alleged incitement charges. Additionally, a similar number of youth and rights activists have been arrested since August for protesting the arrest of prominent unionist Rong Chhun.
As he was escorted to the Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters, Oeur Narith said he was asked to hand over his belongings, including his mobile phones for police scrutiny.
“I thought about it over and over and came to the conclusion that I would not take a chance because I was worried that my bank information and online passwords were all in the [phone]. So, I decided to throw my phone and break it,” Narith said.
The police then accused Narith of “attempting to destroy evidence”, he said, and that they started questioning him about his involvement with the funds used to provide financial support to jailed political activists and for training he held for young participants at his newly-opened cafe near Phnom Penh’s Central Market.
His belongings were searched and his laptop was analyzed by “cybersecurity” official, he said, before his release Monday afternoon.
“They demanded that I sign and thumbprint a contract promising to not gather or mobilize young people or former jailed activists,” Oeur Narith said. “They told me that I would be on their radar and my activities and movements will be under surveillance.”
Oeur Narith was previously arrested after violence broke out between CNRP supporters and Daun Penh district security guards in July 2014. He was charged with insurrection and released on bail a week later, following the easing of political tensions between Prime Minister Hun Sen and then-CNRP president Sam Rainsy in July 2014.
However, after the CNRP’s campaign to scrutinize the Cambodian People’s Party government’s handling of border demarcation along the Vietnam border, which included 2,000 supporters going to the border in Svay Rieng province, Oeur Narith and several other CNRP activists and officials were convicted and sentenced from 7 to 20 years in jail.
The former CNRP official was pardoned after the 2018 national elections, in which the CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly.
Narith’s detention took place as former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy announced on Saturday another promise to return to Cambodia, after his first attempt was unsuccessful in November 2019, on account of travel bans, threats, border blockades by the Cambodian government.
San Sokseiha, a principal assistant to the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Sar Thet, confirmed the detention and interrogation of Oeur Narith.
“He was initially brought in for questioning over a financial issue, but after he gave his testimony, we seemed to not find anything to press charges and we released him,” San Sokseiha told VOA Khmer.
“It was related to borrowing,” he said when asked for details, declining to answer further.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director at local rights group Licadho, said Narith’s arrest and release was a matter of “concern”.
“The fact that [Oeur Narith] was brought in for questioning leads to a suspicion that it was related to his political activities and background as a former opposition activist,” Am Sam Ath said.