Cambodian Activist Arrested For Facebook Post on Rice Tariffs

Cambodia's Ministry of the Interior on Wednesday arrested a member of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party after he posted a Facebook message saying the European Union plans to impose a tariff on Cambodian rice, sources in the country said.

Kong Mas, a political activist from Svay Rieng province, was taken into custody at a coffee shop in the capital Phnom Penh by around 10 officers accompanied by a government prosecutor, fellow CNRP member Em Sokvan told RFA's Khmer Service.

The police said they were arresting him because of his Facebook post. They said they wanted to question him, Em Sokvan, who had been drinking coffee with Kong Mas when he was detained, told RFA.

Police offered no further details on the reasons for the arrest, Em Sokvan said, adding that Kong Mas is now being held at National Police Commission headquarters in Phnom Penh.

Reached for comment, national police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun denied knowledge of the arrest.

But speaking to RFA, Kong Mas's lawyer Sam Sokong said his client will be held for questioning for 24 hours before attorneys or family members will be allowed to meet with him.

Police told me that he has been accused of 'incitement,' but I don't know what that means, he said.

In a Facebook posting on Wednesday, Kong Mas said that EU officials plan to impose a tariff on Cambodian rice of $200 per ton.

The EU move, which includes Myanmar and targets a surge in imports of rice from both countries, sets a three-year period in which tariffs, set in the first year at 175 euros (U.S. $200) per ton, will decline in the second year to 150 euros and in the third year to 125 euros, media sources say.

The policy goes into effect this week.

Politically sensitive

Threatened EU trade sanctions are a politically sensitive topic in Cambodia, which banned the CNRP and jailed its leader in 2017, paving the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats on offer in parliamentary elections in July 2018.

According to the European Commission, the EU ranked in 2017 as Cambodia's second-largest trade partner, importing goods worth 5 billion euros (U.S. $5.8 billion) from the country.

Key EU imports from Cambodia include textiles, footwear, and agricultural products.

Speaking to RFA on Jan. 16, CNRP activist Sun Makara described the arrest of Kong Mas as politically motivated, calling the opposition activist a brave man unafraid of intimidation by authorities.

The authorities used to call Kong Mas to offer him a position [in Hun Sen's government], but he always refused, he said, adding, He has really done nothing wrong.

Also speaking to RFA, Soeng San Karuna�spokesman for the Cambodia-based rights group Adhoc�said that if authorities have arrested Kong Mas simply for posting on Facebook, they will have violated the country's constitution.

If they take actions like these against dissidents, they have violated human rights, he said.

Petition to work

Also on Wednesday, former National Election Commission member and advisor to the Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association Rong Chhun filed a complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, asking that the court reverse a move by the Ministry of Education to refuse permission to 10 CNRP-affiliated teachers to work.

Elected to commune council positions before their party was dissolved by Supreme Court order in 2017, the 10 had petitioned to be allowed to resume teaching, but were turned down.

We want the court to annul the Ministry of Education's decision, Rong Chhun said.

Meanwhile, Cambodian king Norodom Sihamoni on Tuesday issued statements rehabilitating two former opposition politicians, Kong Koam and his son Kong Bora, allowing them to return to political life in Cambodia.

The two were among 118 officials slapped with a five-year suspension of political rights as part of a decision by the Supreme Court in November 2017 to dissolve the CNRP for its role in an alleged plot to topple the government.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's CPP then ran effectively uncontested in July 29, 2018 general elections, drawing condemnation from Western nations who called the ballot unfree and unfair amid a wide crackdown on the political opposition and other rollbacks on democracy.

Speaking to RFA, political analyst Kim Sok called the politicians' reinstatement a defeat for plans by Hun Sen to weaken the CNRP, now organized and active in exile, by allowing opposition officials to return to politics only if they each make individual requests for a pardon.

Hun Sen has failed in his plans, because only two people have now asked to go back into politics, Kim Sok said.

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