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Cambodia: Dissident Arrested After Criticizing Minister

New Government Should Release Ny Nak, Protect Freedom of Expression

Ny Nak at his farm. © Facebook/Nak Ny

(Bangkok) – The Cambodian authorities should drop all charges against Ny Nak, an outspoken critic of the government who was arrested on January 5, 2024, in response to comments he posted on Facebook, and immediately release him, Human Rights Watch said today. Nak is being held in pretrial detention on politically motivated charges of incitement to discriminate and criminal defamation concerning his criticism of Cambodian Minister of Labor Heng Sour.

“Cambodia’s new government has picked up where the previous government left off in its persecution of government critics,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should respect the right to free expression and immediately and unconditionally release Ny Nak.”

Nak said that his recent arrest is related to comments he made on December 17, 2023 on his Facebook page, in which he referenced the government’s decision to grant 91 hectares of land in Kampot province to the labor minister. He had written: “What achievements has Heng Sour done for the Khmer nation, that the government gave him forest land as his personal property? RIP Khmer forests.”

Nak is well-known for his criticism of the previous government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. He served 18 months in prison on charges of incitement to discrimination and public insult for a satirical post that the authorities alleged was an offense for mocking a speech by Hun Sen. He was released in June 2023 after he completed his sentence.

Human Rights Watch previously reported on an assault against Nak on September 12, 2023 when men with metal batons viciously attacked him and his wife in broad daylight in Phnom Penh. He was hospitalized with serious wounds to his head and extremities. Nak alleged that two days before the attack, on the evening of September 10, members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party approached him to join their party and warned him to not be so publicly critical of the government. The authorities failed to seriously investigate the attack or to make progress in identifying those responsible.

Sok Synet, Nak’s wife, posted on Facebook on January 13 that her husband’s health is “now weak. He has headaches, dizziness, and itchy hands and feet.”

The attack shared similarities with assaults reported earlier in 2023 against members of the opposition Candlelight Party, which the authorities also never seriously investigated.

“Prime Minister Hun Manet is continuing down the same rights-abusing path as his father, and outspoken dissidents like Ny Nak will bear the brunt of that abuse,” Robertson said. “Cambodia’s aid and trade partners should ensure that their future engagement with the government is based on tangible and systematic improvements in human rights.”

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