Police in Cambodia arrested a political activist over the weekend for allegedly inciting social unrest by claiming that Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines were unsafe and had caused several deaths.
Thorn Kimsan, a member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was nabbed by the police on March 14 while working in a restaurant in Phnom Penh.
A police spokesman told Radio Free Asia (RFA) 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,” said San Sok Seyha, spokesman of the Phnom Penh Police Commission.
The officer said the activist’s comment “constitutes incitement to create social unrest and misunderstandings.”
The activist’s daughter, however, told RFA that the police arrested her mother “for no reason,” calling her mother’s arrest politically motivated and “unjust.”
She said the arresting officers did not show 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,” the daughter 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.
From end of July 2020 to March 15 this year, nearly 80 activists, NGO workers, and Buddhist monks have been arrested, RFA said in the report.
Seung Sen Karuna, spokesperson for the Cambodia-based rights group Adhoc, said the arrests routinely violate the rights of those taken into custody.
Two other CNRP activists identified as Thun Chantha and Mey Sophon were also arrested earlier for making comments on Facebook criticizing Chinese-made vaccine.
A court in Phnom Penh charged 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.”
Cambodia was criticized earlier this month over a COVID-19 draft law described as “draconian” by Human Rights Watch which said the bill would further erode the rights of activists and dissidents.
The rights group said the bill contains overly broad and vague provisions that the authorities could easily abuse and fails to provide any independent oversight or procedural safeguards.
Cambodia reported its first death from COVID-19 last week and has recorded 1,325 cases as of March 16. The country began its COVID-19 vaccination program last month.