Three opposition activists face imprisonment in Cambodia on charges of conspiracy and incitement, after being deported by Thai authorities earlier this month, police said on Nov. 22.
The pre-trial detention of the three members of the disbanded opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party comes amid a broad crackdown that started in the run-up to the 2018 general election.
Two of the activists, Voeurn Veasna and Voeung Samnang, were arrested in Thailand on Nov. 8, and deported to Cambodia the next day.
Voeurn was apprehended after it was found that he had posted a poem titled “Hun Sen is a Traitor” under the moniker Kranhoung Preylang on Facebook, according to Radio Free Asia.
In his poem, Voeurn criticized Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen for amending the constitution and “destroying the country,” and accused Sen of allowing the destruction of Cambodia’s forests while he was in power.
Sen responded by calling the poem an expression of “extremist theory” and demanded his arrest.
The third activist, Thavry Lanh, a former commune chief, was arrested on Nov. 19 and deported the following day.
The three activists were registered refugees under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with all three living in Thailand.
The Thai government forcibly returned the refugees to Cambodia despite UNHCR’s attempts to intervene in all three cases.
“We are extremely alarmed by this trend of forcibly returning refugees to Cambodia, where they face a serious risk of persecution,” Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection, said in a statement.
“Given recent developments, we are very concerned about the safety of UNHCR recognized Cambodian refugees in Thailand,” Triggs added.
Bill Frelick, refugee and migrants director at Human Rights Watch, called Thailand’s deportation of refugees “a blatant disregard for fundamental refugee protection principles.”
“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,” Frelick said in a statement.
A Thai government spokesman defended its moves, saying the deportations were in accordance with Thailand’s foreign policy.
Cambodian police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said the three jailed activists had violated immigration law in Thailand and Cambodia had not sought their deportation.
“They have arrest warrants against them so when they arrived, we must enact the arrest warrants,” Chhay Kim Khoeun said.
“How can this be a human rights violation when living in Thailand illegally? I don’t understand. Thailand enforced its law and we enforce our law,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this article.