Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday stepped up the pressure on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party after the arrest of Kem Sokha, vowing to dissolve the CNRP if it is linked to the alleged “treason” behind the party leader’s arrest.
“If the CNRP is found to be linked to this act of treason, the party shall be sanctioned in accordance with the law. In this case, it shall be dissolved,” Hun Sen said.
Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh early on Sept. 3 and accused of treason in a move critics said showed that Hun Sen was intensifying his attacks on opponents before 2018 elections. He was taken to remote Tra Peang Plong prison in Tbong Khmum province, near Cambodia's border with Vietnam, and formally charged with treason on Sept. 5.
“Cambodia is very fortunate to uncover on time the traitorous acts of the traitor who has now been arrested. If the political party continues to obstruct the proceedings and defend this traitor, it will be regarded as a traitorous party itself,” said Hun Sen.
There is no chance to let this party exist in our democratic process in Cambodia. When Cambodia dissolves this party there are still plenty of other political parties for the elections,” added the strongman, who has ruled Cambodia for 32 years and says he wants to stay in power for another decade.
CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua, however, said during a visit Monday to the prison Kem Sokha is detained that the party will boycott next year’s election if its leader is not released unconditionally and normality restored.
“Kem Sokha’s arrest and charges are against the constitution. He is protected by his parliamentary immunity,” said Mu Sochua.
“If Kem Sokha is not released so that he can participate freely in the next election along with other factors contributing to free and fair election, we will not join such an election. It is against the will of our people and nation if we join the election that is not free and fair,” she said.
Mu Sochua said the CNRP’s boycott of the National Assembly extraordinary session convened on Monday to strip Kem Sokha of his parliamentary immunity meant that the “session is unconstitutional and against the internal regulations of the National Assembly.”
A government-backed scholar, meanwhile, reiterated Hun Sen’s earlier claims that Kem Sokha had been conspiring with the United States to instigate a “color revolution” in Cambodia.
“I listened to what Kem Sokha said in Australia. That’s not different from the color revolution in Ukraine and Yugoslavia,” said Sok Touch, president of the country’s highest academic institution, the government-run Royal Academy of Cambodia.
Sok Touch was referring to a heavily edited video from Australia-based Cambodian Broadcasting Network (CBN) released by the government-aligned media outlet Fresh News it said showed Kem Sokha was working with the United States to unseat strongman Hun Sen.
“It’s very identical. It’s organized by the CIA. The mechanism and tactics are the same,” Sok Touch told a roundtable discussion on color revolutions.
CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay chastised Sok Touch for echoing Hun Sen and expressing his conclusions before any court takes up Kem Sokha’s case.
“If our courts are independent and professional, a so-called scholar like him shouldn’t make such a presumption in the first place,” said Son Chhay.
Cambodian exiles around the world continued to rally for Kem Sokha, calling for international pressure on Hun Sen.
On September 9, about 400 Cambodian-Australians protested in Springvale Town Hall in Victoria, Australia, and protests also happened in the cities of Adelaide and Sydney. Another 300 hundred protesters met in front of Canada’s parliament Ottawa.
Cambodian-Americans protest on Sunday in California and Washington state, while a larger group is expected in Washington, Dc on Sept. 17.
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) dismissed the protests.
“He’s lucky to be prosecuted here. If he were to be on trial in a foreign country he would have been hanged by now,” said a CPP spokesman.
“Cambodia does not have capital punishment. He’s fortunate to be imprisoned.”
Reported by Sokheng Saut, Thai Tha, Vanndeth Van and Sonorng Kher for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Paul Eckert.