Phnom Penh — Cambodian authorities Wednesday arrested another human rights leader while two more were briefly detained as a widely-condemned sweep of government critics continues.
Pa Nguon Teang, acting director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, was seized at midday near the border with Laos, said Danilo Caspe, the director of the center’s investigation division.
It is unknown why he was detained, Caspe said, but his arrest comes five days after the center’s director Kem Sokha was seized in the capital Phnom Penh on defamation charges.
The arrest is the latest in nearly a dozen connected to criminal defamation cases brought by either the government or political party leaders. Critics say the campaign is an attempt to silence critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration.
Rights activist Ou Virak said he was also detained while he was with Pa Nguon Teang in northeastern Cambodia.
“Myself and another activist were briefly detained but now we’re released,” said Ou Virak, who heads the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia, another vocal critic of the defamation arrests.
On Wednesday the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urged UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mobilise the international community against rights abuses in Cambodia.
“This is not an issue of one or two arrests. What is happening in Cambodia is very serious…. The UN must be a catalyst to get the international community more involved,” said AHRC executive director Basil Fernando.
“It would be morally wrong for the secretary general of the UN to keep silent.”
The defamation cases have drawn condemnation from rights groups and international donors alike.
The United States Tuesday voiced “strong” objections to the actions by Hun Sen’s administration. Both Human Rights Watch and the International Republican Institute, a US-based think tank, likened Cambodia to Myanmar, where the military-ruled government routinely crushes dissent.
“Asian counties have increasingly shown themselves to be concerned with the situation in Burma; now is a time when they should be concerned with the deteriorating situation in Cambodia,” said IRI president Lorne Craner in a statement Wednesday, referring to Myanmar by its old name.
“The international community must make it clear to Hun Sen that this action and such human rights abuses cannot continue.”
Officials deny the courts have been pressured into ordering that government critics be arrested.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is in exile in France, was sentenced in absentia last month to 18 months in prison for defaming Hun Sen and National Assembly president Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
International concern has also focused on the defamation convictions of journalist Mam Sonando and union leader Rong Chhun, both arrested for criticising a controversial border agreement with Vietnam.
Seven people, including a cousin of King Norodom Sihamoni, have recently been arrested or charged with defamation over the agreement, which critics say cedes too much territory to Vietnam.