Cambodia appears to be headed for a period of social unrest as leaders of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and one of the country’s most important unions are preparing to protest if the government follows through on its threat to arrest CNRP acting leader Kem Sokha.
The moves come after Cambodian authorities raided CNRP headquarters on Thursday in an attempt to arrest Kem Sokah in connection with a government investigation into an affair that the party leader allegedly had with a young hairdresser.
In a statement released after a party meeting Friday morning, the CNRP said it will encourage local leaders to travel to Phnom Penh and petition the king to condemn the government’s actions against Kem Sokha and that the party is ready to mobilize supporters for a mass rally should he be taken into custody.
“The party will use its rights to hold a mass demonstration in the case that Kem Sokha, the acting president of the CNRP, is arrested,” the party wrote in its statement, according to an article in the Phnom Penh Post.
Meanwhile Chea Mony, head of the Free Trade Union of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), said that many workers have raised questions after the court issued an arrest warrant against Kem Sokha.
He warned that the union, which chiefly represents garment workers, could go on strike if the party leader was arrested.
The CNRP has been mounting a petition drive in an effort to free four members of the human rights group ADHOC and an election official who were imprisoned as part of the government’s investigation into Kem Sokha.
Government forces have sought to block collection of the thumbprints on the royal petition as the Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken a hard line against the CNRP’s effort to free the five.
The protest threats came after Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s head prosecutor, Yet Chakrya, asked National Assembly President Heng Samrin to declare that Kem Sokha has been charged with committing a “flagrant crime” by failing to appear for questioning.
It would not be the first time Hun Sen’s government has stripped an opposition party leader of immunity in an effort to neutralize them.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy has been staying in France or traveling since an arrest warrant was issued for him in November over a 2008 defamation case, and he was removed from his office and stripped of his legislative immunity. After Sam Rainsy left the country, the CNRP named Kem Sokha its acting president.
CNRP officials say Kem Sokha in a “safe place” following the raid.
The conflict with Kem Sokha is just one of the legal cases the government or the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has brought against opposition party members. Human rights workers say the entire scandal is a bald attempt by the ruling party to crack down on its political opponents and silence its critics ahead of elections in 2017and 2018. Hun Sen has ruled the country for 31 years.
Reported by Oung Sereyvuth and Khe Sonorng for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.