Six activists of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have fled Cambodia this week, fearing political persecution at the hands of the court, which they say is controlled by the Hun Sen-led Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
They are now seeking refugee status in an undisclosed country, and join about 75 others who have fled Cambodia’s since Hun Sen’s attack on the CNRP began in late 2017.
The six were charged with incitement after gathering together to make public statements in December and January in support of acting party chief Sam Rainsy’s plan to return to Cambodia to challenge the CPP’s stranglehold on political power.
Sam Rainsy, a co-founder of the CNRP, has been living in self-imposed exile since November 2015 in Paris, France to avoid court action on criminal charges.
On Feb. 28, Kampong Speu provincial court issued summons for the six activists to appear March 19 for questioning.
The activists’ lawyer, Sam Sokong, said that his clients are now in an undisclosed country after they left Cambodia earlier this week. He said they left because they didn’t believe that justice would be served in Cambodia’s court system.
“The court order is illegal because [the six] have the right to assembly, which is guaranteed by the constitution,” said Sam Sokong.
One of the six, former Traeng Trayeung commune chief Kim Tola said she gathered with the other activists to support Sam Rainsy’s return and she didn’t commit any crimes.
“It is a politically motivated case,” she said in an interview with RFA’s Khmer Service.
“It is wrong to charge us of a serious crime,” said Kim Tola.
Another activist in the group, Hong Theng, said that if he were to show up in court, he would be arrested and detained, and that it was a good choice to leave the country.
“They accused me of incitement to commit a crime,” he said.
“It is a criminal charge. How could they charge me with a crime for what I did? I was just showing support for Sam Rainsy,” he said.
Former CNRP lawmaker Long Ry, who fled Cambodia in 2017 and is now in the United States, revealed on Wednesday that the six are now in an undisclosed location. He said there were about 75 activists there who left Cambodia to avoid persecution.
He noted that in the past there were as many as 100, but some have returned home. He urged the six activists not to succumb to the court’s orders.
“We must maintain our mission at the ground level to make sure Sam Rainsy can return,” he said, adding that he believed the interim president would return in 2019.
A senior CNRP member said that the six activists will apply for refugee status from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) office in Bangkok. He also said that among the other Cambodian activists in Bangkok, several have been granted asylum, but some have not because they desire to return to political life back home.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that all activists who fled from Cambodia are only doing so because they want to revolt.
“They are leaving so that they can settle down overseas to form a rebel group to oppose the government,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.