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Thailand: Cambodian Opposition Activist Assaulted

Investigate Attack on Refugee Critical of Phnom Penh Government

Phorn Phanna, a Cambodian opposition activist and refugee, holds a sign criticizing the Cambodian government’s transfer of power, July 26, 2023.  © 2023 Private

(New York) – Thai authorities should immediately and impartially investigate the attack on a Cambodian opposition activist who had sought refuge in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today. Three Khmer-speaking men beat Phorn Phanna at around noon on August 22, 2023, in Rayong province, causing injuries to his face and chest.

Phanna, 40, a member of Cambodia’s opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, fled to Thailand in July 2022 to escape government persecution. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recognized him as a refugee. From Thailand, Phanna runs three Facebook pages critical of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, with close to half a million followers. He also provides support to other exiled Cambodian opposition activists.

“The Thai government has an obligation to protect the rights of everyone in Thailand, including refugees,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thai authorities should urgently investigate the attack on opposition activist Phorn Phanna and take steps to ensure his safety.”

Phanna told Human Rights Watch that the assailants had surveilled and followed him around the neighborhood where he worked, photographing him from their car. The attack was recorded on security cameras of nearby shops and was witnessed by about 10 construction workers, who then came to Phanna’s rescue.

The attack on Phanna is only the latest of several assaults in Thailand on Cambodian opposition members or government critics. In recent years, the Thai authorities have arrested dozens of Cambodian dissident refugees and returned then to Cambodia, where several have faced arrest and prosecution, Human Rights Watch said.

“Thailand’s new government needs to make clear that it will seek to prevent politically motivated violence against refugees and protect them from wrongful returns to their own countries,” Pearson said. “Thailand should be a place where refugees can live without fear.”

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