Cambodian authorities on Thursday barred opposition leader Kem Sokha from leaving the country as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government continues to ratchet up the pressure on his rivals.
In a court warrant posted in front of Kem Sokha’s home, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced that it had placed the acting Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president under court monitoring as a “charged person.”
A caucus of CNRP members of parliament decried the warrant, saying authorities were violating article 80 of Cambodia’s constitution that guarantees immunity from prosecution for lawmakers for opinions expressed while exercising their duties.
Article 80 can be suspended on a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly, and there is a loophole in the law that allows prosecution if a lawmaker is deemed in flagrant violation of the law.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court chief prosecutor Yet Chakriya charged Kem Sokha with committing a “flagrant” crime by twice ignoring summonses to answer questions in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with Khom Chandaraty, a young hairdresser.
Kem Sokha has remained holed up in CNRP headquarters since heavily armed police attempted to arrest him in May for failing to appear in court.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson and deputy prosecutor, Ly Sophanna, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the court is following proper procedures by placing Kem Sokha under court monitoring.
No help needed
The move comes as the government rejected calls by international institutions for an independent investigation into the murder of popular government critic Kem Ley. While the two men’s surnames are spelled the same in English they are different in Khmer and they are not related.
“The government does not need to set up an investigative commission, or to seek foreign assistance. The Cambodian authorities are very competent in this investigation,” said Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Kem Ley was murdered on Sunday when he was shot twice at point blank range while having coffee. Oueth Ang, who goes by the alias Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill,” has been charged with the crime.
Cambodian authorities say Kem Ley was killed over a $3,000 debt, but relatives of both men say that makes little sense.
Confidence in a fair, thorough investigation into the murder is so low in Cambodia that a crowd refused to allow Kem Ley’s body to be removed from the Caltex convenience store where he was killed out of concern that the police would tamper or destroy evidence.
Growing International Concern
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. leader is concerned about the situation in Cambodia.
"The Secretary-General is saddened to learn of the killing of Kem Ley,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general. “He hopes that the authorities will mount a full and impartial investigation into the circumstances of the shooting.”
U.N. officials, including the special rapporteurs for Cambodia, human rights defenders, freedom of expression and assembly, and summary executions, called for an independent investigation on Wednesday.
“This investigation should be conducted by an independent body with no ties to the government,” they said in a statement. “The circumstances of Mr. Kem Ley’s death have given rise to deep concerns in view of his standing as a critic of the government and his regular comments in the media highlighting governance and human rights concerns.”
U.S. officials also expressed concern today as the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a resolution that includes a call for Hun Sen to “end all harassment and intimidation of Cambodia’s opposition” and “drop all politically motivated charges against opposition lawmakers.”
“The recent violence against opposition leaders shows the true, thuggish nature of the Hun Sen regime,” said committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) “We need to continue to press for a return to democracy for the sake of the Cambodian people.”
Reported by Vuthy Tha for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.