Cambodian activist disavows ruling party after finding asylum

Voeun Veasna says he only left the opposition so he would be freed from prison.
By RFA Khmer
2024.03.15
Cambodian activist disavows ruling party after finding asylum Cambodian activist Voeun Veasna holds the order for his release from prison in this undated photo.
Provided by Voeun Veasna

A Cambodian opposition activist released from prison last year after apologizing to then-Prime Minister Hun Sen and joining his ruling party has repudiated his defection after arriving in a “safe” third country.

Voeun Veasna, a forestry activist and former broadcaster for the online television station of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, was released in May 2023 after joining the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and apologizing to Hun Sen for a derisive poem he wrote about him.

The activist then fled to neighboring Thailand – where he was initially arrested in November 2021 following a request from Hun Sen – and filed a claim with the U.N. refugee agency as an asylum seeker.

He told Radio Free Asia in an interview that he could repudiate the decision to defect to the ruling CPP now that he was in a “safe” third country, which he declined to disclose for security reasons.

“I can’t live with communist leaders, and I can’t betray my conscience. I must resign,” Voeun Veasna said, referring to the CPP’s origins as the sole party of Cambodia’s 1980s revolutionary communist regime. 

Voeun Veasna added that he had only exercised his freedom of speech and should not have been jailed in the first place.

“I was talking about how Cambodians' living standards are not getting better like neighboring countries,” he said. “I was imprisoned unjustly.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he didn’t care about Voeun Veasna’s decision to repudiate his defection after fleeing from Cambodia.

“The CPP doesn’t need convicts to join the ruling party in order to evade prison terms,” the ruling party spokesman said.

Voeun Veasna’s announcement follows the arrest last month of prominent opposition activist Kong Raiya, who also publicly defected to the ruling party to avoid political persecution but then reneged. 

Unlike Voeun Veasna, Kong Raiya revealed his decision to leave the CPP while in Thailand, and was arrested there last month before a visit by Prime Minister Hun Manet, who succeeded his father last year.

Another arrest

Separately, the Nation Power Party, a new opposition party founded in the wake of the barring of the Candlelight Party – itself a successor to the banned CNRP – from last year’s national election released a statement slamming the arrest of one of its electoral candidates, Meu Seanghor.

Meu Seanghor, also known as Kea Visal, had planned to be a candidate for the upcoming elections for Cambodia’s provincial and district administrative councils, according to the party, but was arrested on Friday in Kampong Cham province on charges of “incitement.”

The opposition party said his arrest was “an act of intimidation” and would “provoke a gloomy environment” for the May 26 council elections, in which only those already directly elected by the public to Cambodia’s 1,652 commune councils are allowed to vote.

Meu Seanghor’s wife said he was “pushed into a car” and taken away by police, and said she believed the arrest was politically motivated.

RFA reached out to Chhun Srun, the chief of Kampong Cham’s Baray commune, where he was arrested, but he could not be reached.

Translated by Yun Samean for RFA Khmer. Edited by Alex Willemyns and Malcolm Foster. 

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