Cambodia’s Interior Ministry has banned future visits to political opposition officials and activists held in Prey Sar Prison, saying that a group of lawmakers had improperly allowed an RFA Khmer Service reporter to accompany them to the prison on Wednesday.
The announcement by ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said that the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had “cheated” prison authorities by including Vuthy Hout, Khmer service deputy director, in their party after he had earlier been turned away.
Vuthy Huot, also known as Chun Chanboth, said he had gone at first to the prison on his own to visit jailed political and social commentator Kim Sok.
“But I was not allowed to see him, as I was told I would need a court order unless I was a member of his immediate family,” he said.
“I then left the prison’s security checkpoint. But by a coincidence the [CNRP] officials arrived, and I asked them if I could enter along with them,” he said.
The reporter had not attempted to disguise himself on entry, he said.
“The prison guards knew me well, and addressed me directly as Chun Chanboth,” he said, adding, “I even registered in my real name.”
'Entered on his own'
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service April 19 after the group’s visit to 16 jailed CNRP officials and activists, CNRP vice president Mu Sochua said that Vuthy Huot had entered the prison on his own.
“We have no idea why he was allowed in,” she said.
The opposition party members held at Prey Sar are relying on Cambodian voters to seek justice for them by voting for their party in local commune elections scheduled in June, Mu Sochua said.
“In the meantime, they do not want to serve as political bargaining chips,” she said.
The CNRP is one of 12 political parties competing for 1,646 commune council seats on the June 4 ballot that many see as a bellwether for general elections in 2018.
Observers believe that the CNRP could give the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years, a run for its money in the June elections.
Calls for change
Also speaking to RFA, CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San questioned the CNRP’s chances for electoral wins, saying the party has lost support in recent months.
“Previously, when their forces were united, they got only 55 seats. So what about now, when they are politically divided? It may be enough for them to win 10 seats this time.”
There are now strong calls for change in Cambodia, though, and the CNRP may win if fair elections are held, political commentator So Chantha told RFA.
“If there are no more threats, if there is no more vote buying or intimidation, representatives will be elected according to the people’s will,” he said.
“And then, the courts will no longer be influenced by politicians or by any political party,” he said.
Reported by Thai Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.