Authorities in Phnom Penh arrested two more lawmakers from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Thursday while a court summoned its deputy chief for questioning following violent clashes when party supporters tried to force the reopening of Freedom Park in the capital.
Elected members of parliament Nut Rumduol and Long Ry were taken into custody by policemen in plain clothes from their homes and are expected to face insurrection charges on Friday that carry a prison sentence of up to 30 years, party officials said.
Five other CNRP MPs and a party member were arrested on Tuesday immediately after the violence and faced similar charges in court the next day. They were then ordered detained pending trial.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told RFA’S Khmer Service that the two CNRP lawmakers were taken to the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Headquarters and were expected to face charges at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday.
Yim Sovann said that the party had no immediate plans to hold protests against the crackdown on the CNRP by Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, adding that “party members are still strong.”
Party president Sam Rainsy said on his Facebook page that he would return home from a European trip early Saturday.
“We don’t have any concerns over our personal security. We have done nothing wrong. What we are worried about is that the country is falling into dictatorship,” Yim Sovann said.
At least 40 people were injured in clashes on Tuesday between CNRP supporters and security personnel guarding Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park after the guards tried to pull down a banner hung by the opposition calling on the government to reopen the park.
The park is the only place where protests were allowed in the capital until it was closed to the public in January following a deadly crackdown on CNRP-backed striking workers.
Kem Sokha was summoned to appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning in relation to the case on July 25 as the party's "responsible leader," according to a court warrant seen by Agence France-Presse.
In a post on his Facebook page, Kem Sokha appealed to supporters to closely watch the situation and "observe the use of court power as a threat” to the party’s lawmakers.
Two dozen civil society groups in Cambodia in a statement Thursday condemned the “unfounded charges” against the eight opposition politicians and called for their immediate and unconditional release and for all charges to be dropped.
“Eyewitness accounts and video evidence from July 15 demonstrate that there is absolutely no evidence against the eight that could justify the charges,” said Ath Sam Ath, technical coordinator for the rights group LICADHO, among the organizations which signed the statement.
“Indeed, what evidence exists makes it clear that CNRP leaders present were actively urging their members and supporters to refrain from violence,” he said. “Some were seen physically protecting security guards who were under attack.”
Most of those injured in the clashes were security guards.
Donors asked to take strong stand
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said in a statement that it found no evidence to suggest that any of the arrested lawmakers had incited or participated in the violence.
During dozens of public gatherings and events the CNRP has held, party leaders have consistently espoused nonviolence, it said.
HRW asked Cambodia’s donors to take a strong stand “against this latest attempt by the Hun Sen government to use the courts against opposition politicians.”
“These charges against CNRP leaders call for a unified response from donors, who shouldn’t play the game of saying they hope the legal process will be fair,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.
“Instead, they should call for charges to be dropped against those not involved in violence and for their unconditional release.”
Last month, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi visited Freedom Park, saying he was sorry to see barbed wire surrounding it.
It gave “the impression that there has been an attempt to put democracy in a cage in Cambodia,” he said, calling on the government to reinstate the right to peaceful assembly, including at the site, for all Cambodians.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.