Just ten days after Thailand deported two Cambodian refugees, the Thai government deported a third on Saturday. The deportations have consequently put the activists’ lives in danger, rights groups say.
The three Cambodian refugees hiding in Thailand were jailed on charges of conspiracy and incitement to commit a felony in Cambodia, police said.
Earlier this month on November 8, Thai police detained Veourn Veasna, a Cambodian activist from the opposition party, Cambodia’s National Rescue Party (CNRP), and Voeung Samnang, a former CNRP official.
Cambodia has seen significant political tension ever since the government-controlled Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition group, Cambodia National Rescue Party, (CNRP) in 2017. Prime Minister Hun Sen has since rolled out a campaign to detain former CNRP members.
Rights groups and The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, are once again calling on the Thai government to do more to protect activists who face persecution in their home countries.
“We are extremely alarmed by this trend of forcibly returning refugees to Cambodia, where they face a serious risk of persecution,” says Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection in a statement.
“Given recent developments, we are very concerned about the safety of UNHCR recognised Cambodian refugees in Thailand.”
UNHCR is now demanding clarity on why authorities deported the three men even though they were UNHCR registered refugees, and also likely knew they would face serious threats back in Cambodia.
The UN has long called for the Cambodian government under Hun Sen to commit to international human rights standards.
Rights groups say that authorities have carried out dozens of arbitrary arrests.
Once the activists were returned to Cambodia, authorities immediately transferred both men to a prison facility in Phnom Penh.
Scores of political dissidents are in exile in both Thailand and Cambodia, fleeing oppression by authorities. Rights groups say that the forced return of activists is part of a shady quid-pro-quo policy, where regional governments, including Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos, exchange each other’s dissidents.
In Thailand, pro-democracy activists and critics of the monarchy have been disappearing in concerning numbers. At least nine dissidents have disappeared since June of 2014. Two of those eight men were brutally murdered, their bodies discovered on the banks of the Mekong.
“Thailand’s forcible return of these two refugees shows a blatant disregard for fundamental refugee protection principles,” said Bill Frelick refugee and migrants director at Human Rights Watch in a statement on the deportations.
“The Thai government’s actions make it complicit in the Cambodian government’s persecution of its political opponents, which appears to extend beyond Cambodia’s borders.”