Malaysia frees detained Cambodian opposition activists

Elias Hubbard
November 8, 2019

Sam Rainsy, self-exiled head of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, says he was not allowed to get on a Thai Airways flight from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday, despite having purchased a ticket.

An airline employee, however, told the Associated Press news agency that Rainsy did not have a valid ticket. The photo also showed his booking reference and ticket number, opening the possibility that it could have been changed online by a third party.

The booking, checked by Al Jazeera, appeared to show that Rainsy had reserved a flight leaving Paris November 9, not November 7.

Thailand has barred Cambodian opposition leaders from traveling through the country, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced Wednesday that Rainsy would be turned away.

"Democracy does not come on a silver platter", Mu Sochua said by email.

Malaysia also has hindered the free movement of Cambodian opposition politicians, stopping two party members from flying to Thailand and temporarily detaining Cambodia National Rescue Party Vice President Mu Sochua when she arrived late Wednesday night.

Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier requested that all ASEAN countries arrest CNRP leaders and deport them to Cambodia.

"The CPP is clearly scared", Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen's Cambodia, referring to the prime minister's ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Self-exiled opposition party founder Sam Rainsy has vowed to return to Cambodia tomorrow to lead demonstrations against one-party rule.

Cambodian officials have repeatedly warned that if the opposition leaders make it back, they will be immediately arrested. The U.S. said it was the obligation of authorities to "protect and respect" the human rights of dissidents while lending its support to "the reopening of political and civic space in Cambodia".

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said her detention was "ludicrous and unacceptable".

The moves come shortly before Europe is expected to issue a decision on whether or not to pull Cambodia's preferential tariff status due to its deteriorating human rights situation, a move that could devastate its economy. "We do not want to let them use Malaysia as a base for struggle in other countries".

He has deployed thousands of troops to the Thai border, issued arrest warrants to countries in the region, and threatened any airline that carries Rainsy to Cambodia with legal punishment.

The United States was "deeply concerned by the recent expanding series of arrests, harassment, and intimidation of members of the Cambodian political opposition and by efforts to thwart the return to Cambodia of citizens seeking peaceful participation in the political process", an embassy spokesperson said Friday. "I want to go back, my people are waiting for me".

Our principle, in Asean in particular, generally is that we don't interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. Not me and Myanmar government and Hun Sen.

Mr Ou said the actual goal might be to provoke the Cambodian government "to react in a way that will prevent any compromise between Cambodia and the European Union".

Hay flew to Bangkok later that day, where he planned to meet Rainsy.

"That would prove that she really is committed to losing "freedom and life" as she has claimed", Touch said, adding that the Malaysian government could have sent her to Cambodia even without an extradition treaty.

"There are millions of people in Cambodia who hold their future in their own hands", he said.

A government spokesman on Thursday described members of the opposition group as "persona non-grata" and said they have asked regional countries to arrest exiled dissidents after accusing them of plotting a coup.

"He tried to come to Thailand, but Thai government not allowed him to enter their country".

Social analyst Meas Nee said it was very unlikely that Rainsy would return to Cambodia.

Yon Sineat reported from Phnom Penh, while Andrew Nachem reported from Bangkok.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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