Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) has threatened the opposition with legal action for suggesting ruling party commune chiefs have neglected the interests of their constituents ahead of local elections in June.
In a statement issued late on Monday and signed by a “CPP Spokesperson,” the ruling party accused the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) of sowing “incitement and troublemaking” with its campaign slogan, adopted during an extraordinary congress session held last week.
The ruling party said it would file a lawsuit against the CNRP if it does not modify the slogan, which reads, “Replace the commune chiefs who serve the party with commune chiefs who serve the people."
“The CPP considers the contents of said slogan as characterized by incitement and troublemaking, and that it seriously insults countrywide commune … officials who have worked hard to serve the people while complying with their duties without any political discrimination,” the statement said.
“The CPP demands CNRP leaders to promptly have their slogan modified so as to maintain a sound environment and security for the country. In the event that there is no modification, the CPP reserves its right to bring the matter to the court in accordance with the law in force.”
The CPP statement followed a recent Facebook post by Chiem Khoy, the chief of Takhmao commune in southern Cambodia’s Kandal province, condemning the CNRP slogan, which he called an accusation without merit. He has made several requests to the CNRP to remove or modify it.
In response to the CPP statement, CNRP vice president Eng Chhay Eang said Tuesday that the slogan bears no ill-intention and encourages commune chief candidates to heed the concerns of local residents, not simply to serve their party.
“This slogan did not originate with the CNRP—the people came up with it and it has now been widely discussed on Facebook, so the CPP should understand this,” he said.
“No laws prohibit the use of such a slogan and it is neither based on insults nor expletives.”
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), said that according to the country’s electoral laws, parties are entitled to use any political message with the exception of those that compromise national security or stability.
“[The slogan] doesn’t damage the [honor] of commune chiefs as a whole, although it might to a certain degree because, in fact, many of the commune chiefs act this way,” he said.
“I don’t think the message seriously compromises national security or stability either.”
CNRP officials have warned that the CPP seeks to prevent the opposition from standing in the country’s upcoming elections through a variety of different measures, including the passage of a political party law approved by the National Assembly on Feb. 20, despite an opposition boycott of parliament in protest.
The new law bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party and forced former CNRP president Sam Rainsy—in exile since late 2015 after his conviction on defamation charges supporters say were politically motivated—to resign last month to preserve the party.
Call for release
Also on Tuesday, Wan-Hea Lee, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) representative in Cambodia, urged Hun Sen’s government to release four officials with the human-rights group ADHOC and a National Election Commission (NEC) official who were charged in the government’s wide-ranging probe into an alleged affair by CNRP leader Kem Sokha.
Speaking to reporters after attending an event marking International Women’s Rights Day, Lee dismissed the pre-trial detention of the five—now in its 313th day—as “arbitrary,” and said the OHCHR would continue to advocate for their release.
“Various U.N. human rights mechanisms … pronounced that their detention is arbitrary—that there are no grounds and no evidence of wrongdoing—and therefore we will continue to raise their matters,” she said.
“The findings by the U.N. human rights mechanism have been communicated to the government. I always welcome a dialogue on the various human rights issues including the … five and wherever there is opportunity, I will pursue that dialogue with the views to finding solutions.”
ADHOC officials Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, and Yi Soksan were charged with bribery, while NEC deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya was charged with accessory to bribery for attempting to keep Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress quiet.
While the court case against them continues, Kem Sokha and a local CNRP official were granted royal pardons in the case.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court is expected to rule on an appeal against the continued detention of the four ADHOC officials by March 13.
Reported by Thai Tha and Savi Khorn for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified the CNRP campaign slogan as specifically referring to the chief of Takhmao commune.