Authorities in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh have agreed to allow the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to stage a rally outside of its party headquarters on Friday, but witnesses say the government is preventing supporters from entering the capital city.
On Wednesday the Phnom Penh city government agreed to allow the rally that is set to coincide with the start of CNRP acting president Kem Sokha’s trial for failing to appear in a pair of cases connected with his alleged affair with a young hair dresser.
The CNRP and many human rights organizations see the trial as part of an attempt by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to use Cambodia’s legal system to sideline the opposition before local elections in 2017 and national elections scheduled for 2018.
Party officials and activists have tried to get the trial postponed or the charges dropped, and are hoping that a public show of support for Kem Sokha and other CNRP lawmakers will sway the court.
“We would like to call on the court to postpone the trial of [CNRP] lawmakers,” CNRP spokesman Eng Chhay Eang told supporters. “Otherwise, we will continue our political advocacy.”
Phnom Penh Municipal court spokesperson Ly Sophanna told RFA’s Khmer Service that the court does not accept requests from opposition party lawmakers, and CNRP officials said they have yet to receive a notice from the court.
CNRP defense attorney Sam Sokong also told RFA that the court has yet to respond to their request to postpone the trial and that the defense team will not attend. Kem Sokha is also expected to stay away from the court.
Kem Sokha is not the only opposition lawmaker standing trial on Friday as CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An’s trial on “incitement” charges is also set to begin.
In April Um Sam An was jailed after Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone accusing the government of using “fake” maps to cede national territory to neighboring Vietnam.
Stops outside the city
Phnom Penh authorities' agreement to allow the opposition rally apparently ends at the city limits as witnesses say authorities are preventing passenger vehicles carrying supporters from various localities in Svay Reing, Takeo, Tboung Khmum, and other provinces from coming to the rally.
In Takeo province, CNRP executive chair Mao Sophal told RFA that police sent four party activists to the Koh Andet district police secretariat after their motorbikes were stopped as they to attempted to get to CNRP headquarters.
In the Angkor Borey district, 10 CNRP activists were also detained, he said.
“In Takeo province, military police and police forces were deployed everywhere,” he said.
CNRP executive chair in Svay Rieng province Mao Vibol told RFA that law enforcement officers were deployed in villages, communes, and districts to intercept motorbikes and vans transporting CNRP activists.
“Two activists were sent by the authorities to the Chantrea district police secretariat, but were released after being questioned and threatened,” he said. “There were similar cases in other districts such as Romeas Hek, Rumduol, and Kampong Ro.”
After being blocked from traveling to Phnom Penh, some activists decided to return home, while others were still trying to find a way to get to CNRP headquarters.
Mao Vibol told RFA that the authorities’ actions are biased and violate citizens’ rights.
“By doing this, they are not the authorities of the people, not in a democratic society,” he said. “I would like to send a message to the Svay Rieng authorities that this act is unlawful.”
While the CNRP attempts to mount its protest, Interior Minister Sar Kheng lashed out at the opposition on Wednesday, saying the CNRP is responsible for “destroying democracy” in Cambodia.
He added that a letter CNRP officials delivered to foreign embassies this week, calling for them to hold the government of Cambodia to the terms of the 1991 peace agreement that ended the Cambodia-Vietnam War was "an affront."
In an open letter, Kheng accused the opposition party of “damaging the nation’s interest.”
“While they accuse the government, in fact it is the parliamentarians from the opposition party that are destroying democracy and the political institutions of the country,” he wrote.
CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who led the party’s petition dive, told RFA that Cambodians can clearly see who is right and who is wrong.
“When there is a victim, corruption, and arrest, and they use the court for cover, then that is a violation of human rights,” she said.
“Besides, with the international [community] and independent analysts in agreement, it is clear to see that human rights in Cambodia are declining to a critical point,” she added.
Reported for RFA’s Khmer Service by Moniroth Morm, Sothearin Yeang and Thai Tha. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.