Cambodia’s government on Tuesday threatened to arrest the daughter of jailed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief Kem Sokha if she returns to the country and disband NGOs calling for the release of “political prisoners.”
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak told the Phnom Penh Post Sunday that Kem Monovithya, Kem Sokha’s daughter and CNRP permanent committee member, had committed “treason” by lobbying foreign governments to pressure Cambodia over a crackdown on the opposition, media and NGOs ahead of elections in February and July.
“We will wait for her at Pochentong [Airport] to give her flowers and then escort her to a five-star hotel,” he said, referring to Kem Monovithya.
“We will keep her at five-star hotel in the VIP room,” he added.
Khieu Sopheak additionally threatened to extend a five-year ban on politics for 118 senior CNRP officials that came as part of a decision by the Supreme Court to disband the opposition party in November for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.
The court ruling followed the arrest of Kem Sokha in September on charges of “treason” for what authorities say was a planned rebellion against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government with the backing of Washington.
The Ministry of Interior spokesman also condemned a “White Sunday” campaign launched over the weekend by a trio of former CNRP members and Cambodian Center for Independent Media Director Pa Nguon Teang calling for the release of 24 “political prisoners,” including Kem Sokha and other opposition members previously convicted of insurrection.
He said any NGOs that join the campaign, in which participants post photos of themselves online wearing white, would be investigated to determine whether they were violating their by-laws by doing so.
Unfazed by threats
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service Tuesday, Kem Monovithya said she was unfazed by the threat of arrest.
“It is so unfortunate that the government resorts to making more threats instead of finding a solution to the current political crisis—I’m afraid that makes a bad situation even worse,” she said.
“What we have been doing overseas is nothing wrong. What the government has done to the opposition party, including the arrest of Kem Sokha, dissolution of the CNRP and ban of 118 CNRP officials from politics, is completely against Cambodia’s laws and constitution.”
Kem Monovithya said recent amendments to the Law on Political Parties, that were adopted by the ruling party-dominated parliament and used to disband the CNRP, “are against the principle of pluralism and democracy” and have been condemned by Cambodia’s citizens and the international community.
“What Hun Sen and his government are doing is just to maintain power at all costs,” she said, vowing to continue lobbying foreign governments to find a solution to the political situation in Cambodia.
“I believe the government is under pressure to negotiate now. It is just a matter of time.”
The U.S. and EU have said they plan to compile lists of individuals who spearheaded the dissolution of the opposition and other rights violations in Cambodia, with a view to level sanctions against them, and have pledged to review trade agreements with the country.
Both the U.S. and EU have withdrawn funding of this year’s elections, and Washington recently placed visa restrictions on “individuals responsible for undermining Cambodian democracy” in response to the arrest of Kem Sokha and the dissolution of the CNRP.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay told RFA that the government’s repeated use of threats is tarnishing its image.
“The government appears to be ramping up its totalitarianism,” he said.
“People should not be threatened or restrained from exercising their rights to engage in politics. The law that dissolved the CNRP and banned its officials is, itself, unconstitutional.”
New Year message
The government’s latest rhetoric came as Kem Sokha issued an open letter to the people of Cambodia from his jail cell, which was read by his daughter in a video posted to his Facebook page on Sunday, and reflected on a year that had left the country in “a serious political crisis.”
“The problems are the result of the undemocratic path of our county’s leadership,” Kem Sokha wrote in the letter.
“They are the root causes of poverty and increased social injustice,” he added, saying Cambodia was increasingly in danger of “division, instability, and further deterioration of human rights and democracy.”
Kem Sokha called for national reconciliation through nonviolent means, the right for Cambodians to decide their leadership through free and fair elections, and for the government to respect the conditions of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, which ended civil war in the country and set the stage for a multiparty democracy.
Also on Tuesday owner and director of Beehive Radio Mam Sonando, who is living in self-imposed exile in France, told RFA he had no plans to respond to a court subpoena over past broadcasts of programs produced by Kem Sokha, saying he believes he would be jailed upon his return to Cambodia.
Investigating judge Ky Rithy issued a third subpoena for Mam Sonando on Dec. 22, requiring him to appear for a Jan 11 hearing on Kem Sokha’s treason case, but the radio station chief posted a letter to the court through his Facebook account saying he had never received it and wouldn’t be able to attend in any case, due to a medical condition.
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, Mam Sonando—who has dual French-Cambodian citizenship—said he would be of no use to an investigation into the CNRP president.
“Why would I be summoned to speak in relation to Kem Sokha—I have nothing to do with him,” he said.
“I think if I turn up for the testimony I will be arrested and jailed again.”
In March 2013, an appeals court in Cambodia freed Mam Sonando from prison after serving eight months of a 20-year sentence for alleged involvement in a secessionist plot.