Cambodia Arrests Opposition Party Chief Nhek Bun Chhay

Authorities in Cambodia on Thursday detained former government advisor and opposition Khmer National United Party (KNUP) President Nhek Bun Chhay in connection with five-year-old allegations of drug production, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

“He was arrested today for the Kampong Speu [province] drug production case from 2012,” ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak told reporters in the capital Phnom Penh, adding that the KNUP chief was being held at the National Police Headquarters for questioning.

The Associated Press cited National Police Deputy Chief Gen. Mok Chito as saying that Nhek Bun Chhay had been arrested at his home on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear why the allegations against Nhek Bun Chhay, who is also a former commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, were being revisited five years later.

Nhek Bun Chhay was removed from his role as adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)-led government following Cambodia’s June 4 commune election for allegedly pledging his support to the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

According to the allegations, he had been recorded in a phone call with CNRP Deputy President Eng Chhay Eang saying he could deliver votes from his supporters in communes his party did not contest. The KNUP won one seat in the local elections—the only one not taken by the CPP or CNRP.

Despite denying that he had conspired with the CNRP, Nhek Bun Chhay was sacked as a government adviser—a position he had held for nearly five years—along with more than a dozen other party members in the weeks that followed.

In 1997, while a member of the royalist FUNCINPEC party, Nhek Bun Chhay led a failed armed resistance against a coup by Hun Sen. His party later formed a coalition with the CPP and he was named deputy prime minister in 2004.

An adviser to Nhek Bun Chhay was arrested in Kampong Speu along with 17 other people in 2007 and sentenced to 25 years in prison for drug production.

No legal action was taken against Nhek Bun Chhay at the time, but police said Thursday that the 2012 allegation was related to the bust in Kampong Speu.

Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, has been accused of using the country’s court system to jail his opponents on what observers say are politically motivated charges.

Last week, Cambodia signed into effect a controversial new amendment to the country’s Law on Political Parties, as international and domestic nongovernmental organizations slammed the legislation they said will undermine the democratic process ahead of general elections set for July next year.

The amendment—proposed by the CPP and adopted on July 10 by its members of parliament amid a boycott by opposition lawmakers—bans parties from associating with or using the voice, image, or written documents of anyone convicted of a criminal offense.

Political parties found in violation of the amendment could be banned from political activities for up to five years and prohibited from competing in elections, or even dissolved.

Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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