Updated at 12:20 p.m. EST on 2016-06-03
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government lashed out Thursday at other countries that have expressed concern about Cambodia’s deepening political crisis, saying they are trying to meddle in the internal affairs of the Southeast Asian nation.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is surprised by such interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state that has only carried out the same rules of legal and judicial procedures [that are] also in effect in [those] states,” the ministry wrote in a press release.
The ministry’s release follows a call U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry placed to Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sakhon earlier this week, RFA’s Khmer Service has learned. The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment on the call and the State Department in Washington did not respond to RFA queries about the conversation.
Various foreign governments including the U.S. and the European Union, as well as the United Nations, have expressed varying degrees of concern and urged a peaceful end to the political crisis that has seen Hun Sen’s government try to arrest the top leaders of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), forcing one into exile and another effectively into hiding.
The ministry criticized those foreign governments, saying they don’t understand Cambodia or its laws.
“These reactions reflect the lack of knowledge or the will to pretend not to know the rules of the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” the press release reads.
The U.S., the EU, and the U.N. have all expressed concern over an extended crackdown on opponents of Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) that has featured a raid by heavily-armed police on the opposition party's headquarters in an attempt to arrest Kem Sokha, the CNRP’s acting president.
On Thursday, a Phnom Penh court issued a new summons for Kem Sokha to appear in court on June 14 regarding to his refusal to appear in court as a witness in May.
Kem Sokha’s defense team planned a meeting for Friday to examine legal procedures on the failure-to-appear charge and develop a strategy if the court continues to issue new summonses, sources tell RFA.
Sam Sokong, a member of the defense team, told RFA that a group of attorneys sent a letter to the court asking it to stop issuing new summonses to Kem Sokha.
“So far, the prosecutor has not responded to our group, but instead issued a new summons,” he said. “If the judge has already decided, then we can file a complaint to the prosecutor regarding the decisions of the investigative judge.”
Cambodian authorities have also jailed four members of the human rights group ADHOC and an election official, and have issued a warrant for the arrest of a U.N. employee as part of the government’s wide-ranging probe into an alleged affair Kem Sokha had with a young woman named Khom Chandaraty.
The government has ordered Kem Sokha to appear before the court in connection with at least two complaints that have been filed related to his alleged affair, but he has refused as the CNRP and its supporters claim the charges are a trumped-up attempt to damage the CNRP ahead of elections slated for 2017 and 2018.
On May 30, the EU condemned the “dangerous political escalation” that is gripping the country as the Hun Sen government pursues members of the CNRP on various cases.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy has been staying in France or traveling since an arrest warrant was issued for him in November over a 2008 defamation case and he was removed from his office and stripped of his parliamentary immunity. After Sam Rainsy left the country, the CNRP named Kem Sokha its acting president.
The conflict with Kem Sokha is just one of the legal cases the government or the ruling CPP has brought against opposition party members.
Human rights workers say the entire scandal is an attempt by the ruling party to crack down on its political opponents and silence its critics ahead of the elections. Hun Sen has ruled the country for 31 years.
Attempt to free NEC member
In a related move, National Election Committee Vice Chairman Kuoy Bunroeun says the NEC is seeking a way to get committee Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakrya released on bail so that he can help with the upcoming elections.
Ny Chakrya and ADHOC staffers Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony are in jail facing bribery or accessory charges, accused of attempting to pay Khom Chandaraty to keep quiet about the alleged affair with Kem Sokha.
A warrant was also issued for the arrest of U.N. staffer Sally Soen.
Kuoy Bunroeun told RFA that he and a group of lawyers visited Ny Sokha to examine “possible legal procedures, because the NEC is an independent institution which must implement the law.”
Ny Chakrya is in poor health as he is suffering from high blood pressure and intestinal and respiratory problems.
Sam Sokong, an attorney for Ny Chkarya, told RFA that he is legally qualified for bail.
“We hope the investigative prosecutor and the appeals court will consider the conditions and will compare them with the law, and decide properly and fairly in accordance with the law to give him justice,” he said.
Also on June 2, the Ministry of Interior formed a new commission to perform forensic analysis of 170,000 thumbprints affixed to a CNRP petition submitted to King Norodom Sihamoni on May 30 that seeks his intervention in the case of the Kem Sokha five.
While the CNRP welcomed the move, independent political observer Kem Ley said he considered it a threat to citizens’ rights and an attempt to intimidate them.
“Thumb printing is a kind of expression of opinion,” he said. “Citizens can express their opinion by words, by writing, open and secret, but sometimes the government acts with political anger without considering the impact on the people’s rights.”
Reported by Sokunthea Hong, Sarada Taing and Neang Ieng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.