|(New York, October 7, 1999) -- Human Rights Watch today expressed grave concern for the safety of Cambodian opposition member of parliament Lon Phon, after he was abducted from his house on the night of October 6. Lon Phon is a member of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) representing the province of Battambang. His abduction follows two recent arrests of SRP members and the harassment of others.
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At 6:30 p.m., four men dressed in military uniforms seized Lon Phon from his home in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, and drove him off in a white Toyota Camry vehicle. The men were armed with three AK47 rifles and one pistol. Lon Phon's whereabouts are currently unknown. Cambodian government officials have publicly denied that Lon Phon has been arrested by state forces, saying that he was abducted by a gang of kidnappers.
"Given the pattern of state harassment of opposition members, the possilibity that the government was involved in Lon Phon's abduction cannot be ruled out," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "We think his life may be in danger, and we urge that every possible effort be made to secure his release."
On September 2, Mong Davuth, a SRP member in Siem Reap province, was arrested, reportedly on the orders of the Military Court in Phnom Penh. He was flown by helicopter to Phnom Penh and imprisoned in the Toul Sleng military prison.
A few days later, the houses of at least four Sam Rainsy Party members in Battambang province were surrounded by military police personnel. At least two of the houses were subjected to searches without warrants. One of those whose house was searched, Kong Bun Hean, a security officer at the SRP's Battambang office, fled to Phnom Penh. On September 13 he disappeared after leaving the SRP's headquarters in Phnom Penh. He was later confirmed as having been detained in Toul Sleng military prison on the orders of the Military Court.
Both Mong Davuth and Kong Bun Hean have reportedly been charged with involvement in a September 1998 rocket attack in Siem Reap province. Government officials have alleged that the attack was an attempt to kill Prime Minister Hun Sen.
There is concern, however, that the two men may have been falsely arrested as part of an attempt to implicate other senior opposition political figures in the rocket attack. Kong Bun Hean, according to information obtained by Human Rights Watch, was in prison on unrelated charges at the time the attack took place.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned by the apparent misuse of the Military Court's jurisdiction in this case. In the Cambodian legal system, the Military Court is responsible for investigating military crimes committed by military personnel. Both of the arrested men are civilians, and the involvement of the Military Court in this case is clearly improper, even under Cambodian law.
Human Rights Watch also notes that five members of another political party -- all senior army generals aligned to the FUNCINPEC party -- were recently summoned to answer questions over allegations that they were also involved in the Siem Reap rocket attack.
Finally, Human Rights Watch expresses concern about the recent attack on the home of Nhek Bun Chhay, a former senior FUNCINPEC general who is now a member of Cambodia's Senate. On September 18, a group of armed men in military uniforms raided Nhek Bun Chhay's house and physically assaulted his wife.
In light of these events, Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned by the abduction of Lon Phon, who, as a member of parliament, has parliamentary immunity from arrest. Human Rights Watch urges the government to mount a prompt and full investigation into the abduction of Lon Phon and to take all necessary measures to guarantee his safety.
"Given the pattern of state harassment of opposition members, the possilibity that the government was involved in Lon Phon's abduction cannot be ruled out. We think his life may be in danger, and we urge that every possible effort be made to secure his release."
Executive Director of
the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch