The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party vowed on Thursday to continue its campaign to win the freedom of detained CNRP President Kem Sokha in the face of pressure and harassment from authorities in some provinces.
A campaign featuring banners calling for the release of Kem Sokha launched on Monday had seen party worked intimidated and ordered to take down the posters, while in one case the banners were removed by unidentified men.
CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Critics say the move shows Prime Minister Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018.
The local news outlet Voice of Democracy quoted CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua as saying that local authorities in the capital Phnom Penh and in the provinces of Mondulkiri and Kampot verbally ordered party activists to remove banners advocating Kem Sokha’s release.
Mu Sochua told RFA’s Khmer Service that CNRP activists in Ratanakiri province took down the banners fearing reprisal from authorities, but put them back up after receiving assurances of support from party leaders who told them to disregard the commands.
A banner in Kampot province was removed at night by four unidentified men, she said.
“We have advised our activists across the country that they have to demand the local authorities, who order the removal of the banners, to produce a written and official letter from the Ministry of Interior which has to be forwarded to the party for consideration. So far we have not received any written notice on that,” Mu Sochua told RFA.
The Voice of Democracy quoted Khieu Sopheak, the spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, voicing support for local authorities.
“The local authorities’ action is right,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.
Khieu Sopheak advised the CNRP to stop raising the case of Kem Sokha or risk ending up in jail with him.
The ministry spokesman echoed ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan warning earlier this week that the “the CNRP is walking into trouble” if it continues to champion the cause of its leader.
Mu Sochua, however, urged CNRP activists and members not to be intimidated by +rhetoric from the ruling party.
“Verbal instruction is not law. If the government considers that the CNRP’s peaceful protest is against the law, we encourage the Ministry of Interior to state in writing which laws we are breaking,” she said.
Cambodia’s government has also expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the newspaper’s closure.
Reported and translated by Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.