A Cambodian court has ordered a second official with the human-rights organization ADHOC to testify in the government’s legal battle with Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha, RFA’s Khmer Service has learned.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating Judge Theam Chanpisith ordered ADHOC women’s rights chief Chhorn Sokunthea to appear on April 24 concerning the legal cases surrounding the alleged affair between CNRP leader Kem Sokha and a young hairdresser named Khom Chandaraty.
“ADHOC is tasked with human rights and legal issues, and we are fully aware of the legal proceedings during the investigation stage in which a witness is summoned,” ADHOC Senior Investigator Soeng Senkarona told RFA on Monday.
“It’s a normal court proceeding,” he added. “We are not taken by surprise.”
Chhorn Sokunthea is the second ADHOC employee summoned to appear before the court regarding the alleged affair. Eang Kimly, the organization’s official in Prey Veng, was also summoned last month.
Four ADHOC employees were arrested on May 2 on charges that they attempted to bribe Khom Chandaraty to keep quiet about the alleged affair.
Kem Sokha has been holed up in the CNRP headquarters since heavily-armed police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with the woman, who is also known as the Srey Mom.
Sokha’s parliamentary immunity was lifted because he refused to heed the court summonses, and he has been barred from leaving Cambodia.
The latest court action comes as prominent land righst activists Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea were arrested for staging their 15th “Black Monday” protest.
The aim of their August 15 demonstration included a call for the government to resolve land-grab issues across the country once and for all.
The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.
The two women buried headless dummies in pits saying they represent the court, court officials, Kem Ley’s killer and those behind the murder. Their missing heads represent brainlessness, the protestors said.
Government critic Kem Ley was murdered on July 10, and many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that he was killed by a former soldier over a debt.
Hun Sen has sued Thak Lany and CNRP President Sam Rainsy for defamation over remarks they allegedly made that tie the murder to the prime minister.
Thak Lany denies she made the remarks, saying that her comments were edited to make her look like she was lodging the criticism.
Song Srey Leap, a villager waiting for their release, told RFA over the phone that she wanted the government to treat people better.
“I hope the government will change its attitude regarding how it deals with our concerns,” she said. “It should stop labeling us. We haven’t done anything against the law. It’s within our constitutional rights to do what we are doing now.”
‘Every Monday we support and join you’
The Black Monday campaign was launched by civil society groups after the bribery arrests of the ADHOC officials. In addition to the ADHOC arrests, the Cambodian authorities also arrested an election official. At the same time a U.N. official was also charged.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and other officials have condemned the protests as a “color revolution.”
Over the years, Hun Sen has repeatedly inveighed against “color revolutions,” named after a series of popular movements that used passive resistance to topple governments in countries of the former Soviet Union during the 2000s.
Last week Phnom Penh’s municipal government warned the CNRP against joining Black Monday after the CNRP endorsed the campaign.
While the CNRP is endorsing to the Black Monday campaign, it’s unclear how far the party will go.
On Monday Senior CNRP Lawmaker Eng Chhai Eang posted a photo of himself on Facebook wearing a black tee-shirt to protest for the release of the jailed activists.
He posted: “Every Monday we support and join you for the Black Monday campaign to demand the release of the prisoners of conscience, and ask the court to drop all charges against political and rights activists.”
Reported by Sothearin Yeang and Sel San for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.