A member of Cambodia’s banned political opposition party was arrested at the weekend on accusations she incited social unrest by claiming that Chinese-made vaccines aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 were unsafe and had caused several deaths, sources in the country said Monday.
Thorn Kimsan, a Koh Totem commune council member In Kampong Cham province for the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was taken into custody by plainclothes police on Sunday while working in a restaurant in Phnom Penh, her daughter told RFA on Monday.
“They arrested her for no reason, and I watched and waited all night for her to come home,” Thorn Somethea said, calling her mother’s arrest politically motivated and “unjust” and saying that officers had not shown a warrant ordering the arrest.
“They didn’t explain anything. They only said that they were going to take her to the Tuol Kok district office. I want the authorities to get in touch with [our family] and tell us what is going on,” she said, adding that her mother suffers from hypertension and high cholesterol and now needs medicine brought to her in jail.
Phnom Penh Police Commission spokesperson San Sok Seyha told RFA on Monday that Thorn Kimsan had been arrested because of statements made on her Facebook page that had “gravely affected social security.”
“She sent a voice message saying that the Chinese vaccine has caused people in Cambodia to die, and this is not true. This constitutes incitement to create social unrest and misunderstandings. In reality, there has been no such problem so far,” he said.
Thorn Kimsan’s arrest was the latest in a string of arrests of political opposition and social activists on unspecified charges or accusations of “incitement,” with no warrants shown or explanations provided to suspects or their families.
Including CNRP members, environmental activists, NGO members, and Buddhist monks, nearly 80 have been taken into custody from the end of July 2020 to March 15 this year, sources say.
These arrests routinely violate the rights of those taken into custody, said Seung Sen Karuna, spokesperson for the Cambodia-based rights group Adhoc.
“The person placed under arrest has to be told why he or she is being arrested and [where they will be taken next],” he said, adding, “Those enforcing the law have to be completely transparent and not hide anything related to the arrest procedure.”
Two others also arrested
At least two other CNRP activists—Thun Chantha and Mey Sophon—were recently arrested for making comments on Facebook criticizing the Chinese-made vaccine, with a court in Phnom Penh charging them on Feb. 28 with making comments likely to incite “grave social unrest.”
“We are busy now trying to motivate people across the entire country to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but they were creating chaos by saying the vaccine can cause death,” said Chhay Kim Kheourn, a spokesperson for the National Police Commission.
“They were confusing people and insulting [Cambodia’s] leaders. Is that really freedom of speech?” he asked.
“We have to enforce the law.”
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has variously spoken in favor or against Chinese vaccine.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Health on March 11 confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 related death, one year to the day that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus that causes the disease a global pandemic.
The patient, 50, was a driver for a Chinese company chief who lived in Sihanoukville city, and who had also tested positive for COVID-19, according to a ministry statement. The driver died at a Phnom Penh hospital, the statement said, without providing further details.
There have been no confirmed reports in Cambodia of deaths caused by use of the Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.