BANGKOK – Human Rights Watch urged the Cambodian government on Friday to immediately release a woman, who had fled to Thailand after an arrest warrant was issued against her for throwing a sandal at a poster of the country’s prime minister last year.
Sam Sokha, a labor activist, had been detained in Bangkok since January, and was forcibly returned to Cambodia on Thursday by Thai authorities, despite being a United Nations-recognized refugee, a HRW statement said.
“Thailand was fully aware of Sam Sokha’s status as a refugee, yet returned her to Cambodia, where she is likely facing a prison term for expressing her political views,” Brad Adams, HRW Asia director, said in the statement Cambodian authorities had issued an arrest warrant for the 38-year-old woman for insulting a public official and for “incitement to discriminate” under articles 494, 496, and 502 of the Cambodia Criminal Code, after she was seen throwing a sandal at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s poster in a video that was shared widely on social media.
In the Video, Sokha – who faces a two-year prison sentence – was seen accusing Hun Sen and National Assembly President, Heng Samrin, whose image also appeared in the poster, for destroying the nation.
In August, Cambodian authorities had cracked down on its critics, including dissolution of the opposition party, bans on independent media and expulsion of NGOs.
The crackdown came after the ruling People’s Party of Cambodia posted disappointing results in local elections held in June, and a year ahead of general elections when Hun Sen would seek to renew his term as the prime minister, a position he has held since 1985.
Cambodia, backed by the United Nations, held its first democratic elections in 1993 after more than two decades of conflict, including the reign of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79), during which about 1.7 million people died.