Kem Sokha, head of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, was formally charged with treason Tuesday in a case that has drawn widespread international condemnation. Fifteen month before his arrest on Sept. 3, Khem Sokha spoke to Vuthy Huot of RFA’s Khmer Service while under the threat of arrest on other charges and while CNRP leader Sam Rainsy was in exile to avoid arrest. Following are excerpts from Kem Sokha’s interview on May 30, 2016 at the CNRP headquarters in Chak Angre Leu commune, Phnom Penh.
RFA: Should there be any event leading to your arrest while leader Sam Rainsy remains in exile, could the CNRP be plunged into the situation you have spoken of in which the (ruling party) seeks to select specific individuals to assume the CNRP’s leadership? Are you concerned about this and have you made any specific arrangements?
Kem Sokha: We knew about this earlier and we have had a lot of discussions about this matter. Our local leaders are the major force. They serve as the foundation of the policy of the CNRP. Therefore, if ever the top echelons or the middle leadership wanted to do anything that was deemed improper, they could not sell out the CNRP to others because our party is strong from the bottom up. This is what I trust.
RFA: So you hope that the CNRP will remain strong even in the event that you yourself may be subject to arrest while the party president is living in exile?
Kem Sokha: It all depends on our struggle. Should the CNRP remain on the correct course, by struggling for the genuine will of the citizens, the party will retain the support of the people. Otherwise, if the party happens to change its stance or turn against the will of the people, then the people will stop supporting the party and then the party will be in trouble. But I trust that this party will never change its course and its political goals.
RFA: Should you get arrested today or tomorrow or any day in the future, do you have any hope that you can serve from your place of detention as a symbol for encouraging your supporters and Cambodian citizens?
Kem Sokha: I believe that if I were arrested and detained in jail, it would work as an incentive for the will of the people to rise further in struggling for freedom and justice. This is what I believe … that in such a situation, our people can no longer stand such oppression, suppression and injustice. The way they would treat me is not just as an individual named Kem Sokha alone. I represent citizens in my constituency and I myself am also a leader of the CNRP that represents almost half of the population.
RFA: Should for any reason the president and vice-president of the CNRP become involved in unresolved crisis, say leading to the dissolution of the CNRP, what measures would you take to rescue the party?
Kem Sokha: Dissolving the CNRP means dissolving the representative of half of the population of this country. Our citizens know and understand exactly whether they agree to let anyone to dissolve their will, which is equal to half of the nation’s population. The CNRP represents the will of half of our country’s population.
RFA: While you still enjoy your freedom, and hopefully you continue to enjoy your freedom, should by any manner authorities happen to arrest you and the National Assembly wins court approval to pursue legal procedures against you, and then the court issues an arrest warrant against you, do you have any words of advice to your supporters, and Cambodian citizens?
Kem Sokha: First, I want to state that I can be physically arrested, but my conscience cannot be detained. Second, I want to say that without any risk, there won’t be any change. Third, I want to say that freedom is not handed over for free. If we want freedom, we must dare and take risks to struggle. The only one thing that I request is that our citizens please continue the struggle. Struggle for what? Struggle for positive change, struggle on a non-violent basis, struggle for the survival of all Khmers. We must dare to devote ourselves for the survival of the Khmers and for the survival of our nation as a whole.
Translated by Sovannarith Keo.