A court in Phnom Penh has summoned the deputy chief and seven lawmakers from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) for questioning in connection with a violent clash last month which erupted when party supporters tried to force the reopening of Freedom Park in the capital.
Investigating judge Keo Mony issued a subpoena to the eight politicians as well as another party member on Thursday, ordering the nine to appear at an Aug. 11 hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
CNRP deputy chief Kem Sokha, who was among those summoned, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the order amounted to a “political show,” saying he was not at the July 15 protest that left at least 40 injured following the clash between party supporters and security guards at the park.
The seven lawmakers and one party member had earlier been detained and charged with “insurrection” for their role in the protest.
They were released about a week later after a July 22 agreement between the CNRP and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) that ended a year of political deadlock following disputed July 28, 2013 general elections.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy has said that their release was part of the deal.
Kem Sokha said Friday that he was surprised by the court order as he had explained to the investigating judge last Friday that he had nothing to do with the protests.
“[Keo Mony] asked me [at the previous hearing on July 25] if I knew what had happened on July 15 and where I was at the time, and I told him that I was not there and did not know the incident had taken place,” Kem Sokha said.
Kem Sokha said he had told Keo Mony that he was at his farm in Kampong Cham province’s Chamkar Leur district on the day of the violence.
“Then [the judge] repeated, ‘Your Excellency was not present at the scene, and so did not know what happened,’ before saying that he didn’t know what else to ask me. So that meant it was the end of the case.”
The CNRP deputy president said that the opposition protesters “acted on their own” after guards at Freedom Park had tried to pull down a banner hung by the CNRP calling on the government to reopen the park, sparking the clash.
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.
Under the July 22 agreement, forged by Hun Sen and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, the ruling party pledged to adopt key reforms to the government-appointed electoral body, the National Election Committee (NEC), which named the CPP winner of last year’s polls despite widespread claims that the elections were rigged.
The opposition, meanwhile, agreed to join the National Assembly (parliament), which it had boycotted since the vote, though no date has been set for the lawmakers to swear in.
Returning to parliament
Working groups from the two parties are discussing the finer points of the agreement, with the CNRP pushing for immunity from prosecution for all new members of the NEC and an independent budget for the body before joining the National Assembly, CNRP sources said.
Independent analyst Kem Ley told RFA that the CPP was using the threat of legal proceedings over the July 15 clashes against the nine opposition politicians as leverage to pressure the 55 CNRP MPs to swear into parliament as soon as possible.
“This clearly shows that the court is a tool for politicians to use in their political competitiveness,” he said.
In a recent letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Sam Rainsy said that if NEC members are granted immunity and independent budgets, CNRP lawmakers could be ready to join parliament “next week.”
As part of reforms agreed to for the NEC, four members will be nominated by each party, with a key ninth member jointly selected.
The two parties earlier this week agreed to nominate top local human rights campaigner Pung Chhiv Kek to be the ninth member of the new committee.
She has demanded that NEC members be given immunity from prosecution, are guaranteed independent decision-making, given the right to recruit expert staff, and are allowed to operate autonomous budgets.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.