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An official of the outlawed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested and detained Thursday by police in his house in Cambodia’s Komapong Chhnang province, the latest target of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s crackdown against CNRP members.

Court officials and police stormed the residence of CNRP Provincial Chief Keo Thai without an arrest warrant and took him into custody, his family told RFA’s Khmer Service.

Keo Thai’s daughter, Keo Chan Rachana, told RFA that she had no idea what crime her father is accused of. She said her father, an English teacher, had been doing his job remotely through online classes when schools were ordered to close due to COVID-19 outbreaks in the country.

“A prosecutor said he wanted to see my father but when he [came to talk] they arrested him instantly, dragging him away barefoot,” said Keo Chan Rachana.

Police also confiscated three of the family’s mobile phones.

Police attempted in March 2019 to arrest Keo Thai for criticizing the government on Facebook. He was able to evade capture when police surrounded his house.

After self-exiled CNRP leader Sam Rainsy failed in his promise to return to Cambodia by Nov. 9, 2019, Hun Sen scaled back arrests of CNRP members suspected of being involved in the repatriation efforts. This provided a window for Keo to return to his home.

RFA attempted to contact Provincial Police Chief Khouv Ly for comment but he did not respond. Provincial Court Spokesman Long Sy refused to comment when asked about the case.

Ny Sokha of the The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) told RFA that the police broke the law by arresting Keo Thai without a warrant.

“Even if they were in the presence of a prosecutor, they need to explain the reasons for arrest. Without a legitimate reason, the arrest is illegal,” he said.

Stepped-up harassment

Authorities in Cambodia stepped up their harassment of CNRP activists and supporters in August 2019, when acting party leader Sam Rainsy announced he would return to Cambodia on Nov. 9, calling on supporters and members of Cambodia’s armed forces to join him in a restoration of democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

Many CNRP activists and supporters are now believed to be held in the country’s jails, mostly without a warrant, with many more having been summoned to appear in court related to their support of Sam Rainsy’s plan to return late last year.

Sam Rainsy has been living in self-imposed exile since 2015 to avoid a string of what he calls politically motivated convictions and charges, and Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017 for its role in an alleged plot to topple the government.

The ban on the political opposition, along with a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.

Hun Sen and other leaders in his government have vowed to arrest Sam Rainsy as soon as he sets foot inside Cambodia.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.