PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodian police arrested eight rights activists, including two foreigners, on Monday (May 9) as they stamped down on protests sparked by the detention of their colleagues in a case linked to a shadowy political sex scandal.
Eight people, including the deputy director of prominent local rights organisation Licadho and two foreigners - a Swede and a German who also work for the group - were detained as they tried to rally outside a prison in Phnom Penh, Am Sam Ath of Licadho, told AFP.
"I don't know yet what charges they are facing," he said, adding that the foreigners had been sent to immigration police. The government is scared by its own shadow," he added.
Rights workers and activists dressed in black uniforms were calling on authorities to free five colleagues charged last week in connection with a sex scandal that has engulfed Cambodia's political opposition.
Opposition lawmaker Kem Sokha, the deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, has been accused of having an affair with a 25-year-old hairdresser.
Allegations have swirled among opposition groups that the repressive government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has fanned the scandal to smear his enemies - a charge the government denies.
The woman was initially helped by rights groups when multiple audio tapes of her conversations with Kem Sokha were leaked online two months ago and she came into the crosshairs of the police, who activists have long accused of lacking independence from Hun Sen's government.
But she later accused rights groups of instructing her to deny the relationship for money after she was interrogated by Cambodia's anti-terrorism police.
That accusation led to five activists last week being charged with bribery, an allegation they deny.
Various rights groups called for protests to mark a week of their detention, with instructions for supporters to dress in black.
On Sunday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng told authorities nationwide that a handful of NGOs were inciting a "Black Uniform Campaign" and ordered them to "prevent the movement that could lead to chaos and unrest in the society".
Cambodian police and officials could not be reached immediately for comment on the new arrests.
A UN rights office staff member, Sally Soen, was also charged with being an accomplice to the alleged bribery but has not yet been arrested and is likely covered by diplomatic immunity.
Kem Sokha has not publicly commented on the accusations against him.