Newspaper Publisher and Family Arrested, Released in Vietnam

Vietnamese border police on Friday detained the publisher of a Cambodia-based newspaper that is highly critical of Vietnam’s communist government and its treatment of ethnic Khmer Krom peoples. 

Ly Chhuon, the 54-year-old publisher of the Khmer-language Prey Nokor weekly newspaper, said following his release on Sunday that he and his wife Dach Sidoeurn, 54, and his daughter Ly Srey Neath, 18, were arrested by Vietnamese police at a border checkpoint near Takeo province and detained for 48 hours.

The family, which was heading to Mr. Chhuon’s hometown in Vietnam’s Bac Lieu province to celebrate Khmer New Year, was released only after Mr. Chhuon paid a $1,500 fine and female police officers performed a full strip search of Ms. Sidoeurn and Ms. Srey Neath.

“They detained me, my wife and my daughter after learning that I am a journalist from my passport,” said Mr. Chhuon.

“They checked my personal email. They also took off my wife and daughter’s clothes to search them. This is a very strong violation of our rights. If they do not allow me to go to Vietnam, they can just let us return, not detain and question us for 48 hours,” he said.

Mr. Chhuon, an ethnic Khmer Krom, said he and his family were brought in for questioning at a police station near the border between Cambodia’s Takeo province and Vietnam’s An Giang province. They have now returned to Cambodia, he said.

An Giang is home to one of Vietnam’s largest populations of Khmer Krom, or lower Khmer, an ethnic Khmer community in South­ern Vietnam. Members of the Khmer Krom community frequently accuse the Vietnamese government of human rights abuses and repressing their cultural identity.

Six Khmer Krom men were arrested in March for their involvement in the Khmer National Rescue Front, a group of political dissidents charged with planning violent at­tacks on the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. They are currently being held in Prey Sar prison.

Taing Sarak, chief of the Khmer Krom Federation in Cambodia, called the detainment of Mr. Chhuon a serious human rights violation.

“If he did something wrong, why did the border police allow him in? They can stop him and return him immediately instead of detaining him. He went there [to Vietnam] as a Cambodian citizen with his Khmer passport to celebrate Khmer New Year,” he said.

Thach Setha, president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association, said that the reason for Mr. Chhuon’s detainment was likely because of his criticism of the Vietnamese government.

“The reason [Mr. Chhuon was arrested] is because the Vietnamese government always stops Khmer Krom who work on hu­man rights promotion and politics from getting into Vietnam,” he said.

Li Minh Ngoc, spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh, declined to comment.

© 2013, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.