Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday threatened to take legal action against opposition leader Sam Rainsy for allegedly criticizing Cambodia’s king in a letter urging the monarch not to endorse the formation of a “single-party” parliament.
The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) president sent the letter last week in response to a statement by King Norodom Sihamoni congratulating the country’s parliament on its formation despite a CNRP boycott following last year’s disputed national election, which the government-appointed electoral board said was won by Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
Speaking on Monday at a bridge-construction groundbreaking ceremony, Hun Sen said that while Cambodian law provides no penalties for insulting the king, Rainsy had “committed a crime against the constitution” by attempting to persuade the king to withdraw his support.
Hun Sen added that he has now directed government lawyers to “study” Rainsy’s letter with a view to bringing legal charges against the opposition leader, who has been convicted in the past on charges rights groups said were politically motivated.
A new conviction could come as soon as the Khmer New Year in late April, Hun Sen said.
Royal palace cabinet chief Oum Daravudh, speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, confirmed the palace’s receipt of Rainsy’s letter.
Rainsy’s claim that Cambodia’s parliament, the National Assembly, is a one-party body is “not correct,” though, he said, adding that while only the 68 lawmakers from the CPP were finally sworn in, the 55 CNRP lawmakers who won seats had also been given their credentials.
“As for Sam Rainsy’s language in his letter to His Majesty the King, I don’t think this seriously affects the king’s reputation,” he said.
Will not flee if charged
Speaking in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh on Monday on the first anniversary of the CNRP’s founding, Sam Rainsy denied having insulted the king.
Hun Sen himself had threatened in 2005 to abolish the monarchy if the king spoke against the passage of certain laws, he said.
“That same person now accuses me of insulting the monarchy, and black has turned to white,” he said, adding, “Those who want to protect the monarchy are now aligned with the CNRP.”
If charged, he will not flee the country, Rainsy said, adding that his followers "should remain calm and not protest” if he is convicted.
In the lead-up to last year's election, King Sihamoni granted a pardon annulling Sam Rainsy's previous convictions for which he was sentenced to 11 years in prison and which were widely seen as politically motivated, including publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam.
The opposition leader had been living in exile in France, but returned to Cambodia after the announcement to take part in the polls.
Call for mass demonstration
Rainsy on Monday also called for a mass demonstration to be held May 2 in which “two million” CNRP supporters would take part, demanding Hun Sen's resignation and a national reelection.
“This time, we will not have only one thousand or two thousand people. We will have two million, and [the government] won’t be able to crack down on us,” he said.
In turn, Hun Sen threatened a counter-demonstration against the CNRP.
The CNRP has led a series of demonstrations attended by thousands of supporters since July 28 elections that the party claims were rigged by Hun Sen’s CPP.
In early January, government security forces shot five people dead in Phnom Penh while putting down a protest by CNRP-backed garment workers demanding higher wages, and a day later violently dispelled opposition supporters from the city's Freedom Park, where they had called for Hun Sen to step down.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.