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Interview: 'Without Justice There Can’t Be Peace' in Cambodia

Zakariya Tin conducted a phone interview on Wednesday with Son Chhay, Cambodia National Rescue Party chief whip and lawmaker on the country’s ongoing political tensions following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s broad crackdown on the opposition CNRP and civil society and media.

RFA: The Constitutional Council has summarized its work output over the past 24 years in regard to the implementation of the Constitution, saying that the government properly upholds the Constitution and that almost 300 statutes along with various international legal instruments have been adopted and endorsed. As a lawmaker, has our present Constitution been upheld properly?

Son Chhay: My observation is different from what the Constitutional Council has claimed. As we know, our constitution has been amended a couple of times. The gravest amendment was the one that paves the way for a package vote in endorsing a new prime minister and leadership of the National Assembly simultaneously. This is one of the events involving changes to the Constitution. In real practice, as we know nowadays there are ongoing debates among legal experts with the royal government in regard to the arrest of lawmakers while they still have immunity. This is the issue concerning our latest practices.

Yet, if we think further, talking about the Constitution, it stipulates about citizens’ rights and freedom, including freedom of information, political participation, and housing rights, etc. — These rights have not been properly protected. Housing rights and rights to life, for instance, have been violated through acts of land grabbing. As to freedom of expression, many people have also been arrested and jailed. Prior to talking about other human rights, we should also know that our Constitution is based on a pluralistic democracy. The Constitution clearly states about separation of three powers—legislative, executive, and judiciary. If we examine these three pillars, we see that they are being messed up. The National Assembly which is a legislative branch does not enjoy any independence as, mostly, it always follows instructions from the royal government. Likewise, for judiciary system, as we have seen, the court always listen to—especially for politically motivated cases—no matter what the government has said—the courts will follow suit.

Therefore, it is wrong from the top—right from the paramount principles of the Constitution up to the practices of citizens’ rights, the protection of the rights of deputies or lawmakers who represent the people, and various other practices that have been created to ensure that Cambodia has balance of power and guarantee of both resources, rights to life and protection from any violation by any power governing of the country.

RFA: Earlier you mentioned that the three branches have not been clearly separated, in particular the executive branch always exerts its influence on the other two branches. More importantly, it has influence on the paramount institution of the country—the Constitutional Council. What is the main factor causing the executive branch to be able to exert its excessive influence on the other two branches?

Son Chhay: As we know, in principle, the practice of change from the former regime known as a socialist regime, whereby a single party belonged to the state, and multiple parties did not exist, and customs of governing prior to 1993, the state controlled everything. This meant that the same party controlled the government as well as the National Assembly. It is a fact that what had been practiced in the past has remained an influence on the present Constitution. Such practices becomes stronger and stronger due to power of those powerholders. With our weak institutions, leaders in the government always consolidate those powers and centralize them. As a result, it causes other institutions to dare not do anything except follow instructions from the executive branch.

The combination of our past customs and method of consolidation of power in governing the country after 1993 have caused a chaotic situation nowadays. Technically, what our present Constitution states has no longer been implemented, but we turn to follow our past practices as a basis. And that is the issue. Also, those who serve as guarantors of the Constitution are from the members of the same ruling party.

RFA: In Wednesday’s statement from the Constitutional Council, it is stated that Cambodia has a Constitution, and credible legal and judicial systems. Particularly, Cambodia has enjoyed peace and happiness. What are your thoughts about this?

Son Chhay: We must understand clearly what it really means by the term ‘peace’. A peace in a frightening environment or a peace in an environment  of freedom and justice? These are two different versions. That is why Cambodia decided in principle since the Paris Peace Agreement that to ensure sustainable peace, we shall uphold a peace with provision of freedom and social justice. As a matter of fact, we must know that as a theory, peace cannot exist without justice.

If we ask our general citizens whether in their real lives, our society has enjoyed justice, be it political justice, economic justice or whatever; and whether there are any restrictions. When our citizens possess plots of land and these plots have been grabbed by the powerful … and yet our judicial system does not protect them. And when politicians from outside the government who appear to face minor problems have been subject to prosecution by judicial system. Moreover, in business, money and individual power always influence on the way we deal with business and trade.

So we must understand clearly the definition of term ‘peace’. If we merely live in fear and just like what we had experienced during the Pol Pot regime, during which time, they also claimed that Cambodia was at peace! Under Pol Pot’s leadership, when they executed any individual, no one dared to challenge as they just kept quiet even if their family members were taken for execution. At that time, there was no battles with the exception of later on that we had battles with the Vietnamese.

Therefore, when there are no citizens protesting or holding demonstration to demand any freedoms or rights. Is such a society at peace? I don’t think so. In a long-term peaceful society in countries that genuinely uphold democracy, institutions have been properly governed and each institution serves their own citizens. Citizens are allowed to participate in the protection of the interests of the nation and their own personal interests with full practice of freedom of expression. These countries have never experienced any kind of war — no matter how many times they change their government leaders, they still enjoy peace. As we can see in countries in Europe, they change their prime ministers or presidents many times, but we have never heard of their countries being plunged into war or internal disputes. Even in the U.S., with over a hundred of years of peace, they also have never encounter any problems. Their citizens still enjoy freedom. Except in our country when a leader assumes power, they always turn to kill one another and destruction. That is why it plunges the country into trouble. Those claiming that we have peace should clearly understand what these issues really mean. In short, as I said, without justice there can’t be peace.

Translated by Sovannarith Keo.

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Cambodia Opposition Vows to Keep Pushing for Release of Leader Kem Sokha

The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party vowed on Thursday to continue its campaign to win the freedom of detained CNRP President Kem Sokha in the face of pressure and harassment from authorities in some provinces.

A campaign featuring banners calling for the release of Kem Sokha launched on Monday had seen party worked intimidated and ordered to take down the posters, while in one case the banners were removed by unidentified men.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Critics say the move shows Prime Minister Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018.

The local news outlet Voice of Democracy quoted CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua as saying that local authorities in the capital Phnom Penh  and in the provinces of Mondulkiri and Kampot verbally ordered party activists to remove banners advocating Kem Sokha’s release.

Mu Sochua told RFA’s Khmer Service that CNRP activists in Ratanakiri province took down the banners fearing reprisal from authorities, but put them back up after receiving assurances of support from party leaders who told them to disregard the commands.

A banner in Kampot province was removed at night by four unidentified men, she said.

“We have advised our activists across the country that they have to demand the local authorities, who order the removal of the banners, to produce a written and official letter from the Ministry of Interior which has to be forwarded to the party for consideration. So far we have not received any written notice on that,” Mu Sochua told RFA.

The Voice of Democracy quoted Khieu Sopheak, the spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, voicing support for local authorities.

“The local authorities’ action is right,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.

Khieu Sopheak advised the CNRP to stop raising the case of Kem Sokha or risk ending up in jail with him.

The ministry spokesman echoed ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan warning earlier this week that the “the CNRP is walking into trouble” if it continues to champion the cause of its leader.

Mu Sochua, however, urged CNRP activists and members not to be intimidated by +rhetoric from the ruling party.

“Verbal instruction is not law. If the government considers that the CNRP’s peaceful protest is against the law, we encourage the Ministry of Interior to state in writing which laws we are breaking,” she said.

Cambodia’s government has also expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the newspaper’s closure.

Reported and translated by Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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Cambodia Must Do More to Protect Human Rights: UN Special Rapporteur

The Cambodian government must do more to protect democratic freedoms in the run-up to national elections scheduled for next year, a U.N. official responsible for monitoring human rights in the Southeast Asian country said in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

In a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council, special rapporteur Rhona Smith slammed violent rhetoric and threats directed by prime minister Hun Sen against the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and its supporters, along with the jailing on questionable charges of opposition figures.

“The deterioration of the democratic space and freedom of expression in Cambodia is a primary concern, with many NGOs and human rights defenders subject to threats, harassment, arrest, and/or extensive pre-trial detention,” Smith said in her report.

Echoing Smith’s remarks, U.S. representative to the Council Jason Mack said the United States “remains gravely concerned about the Government of Cambodia’s ongoing crackdown on opposition parties, independent media, and civil society.”

“The politically-motivated arrest and detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha [has] underscored the need for continued attention by the Council,” Mack said.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Critics say the move shows Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018.

Cambodia’s government has meanwhile expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the newspaper’s closure.

‘Selective, unverified’ criticisms

Addressing the Council on Tuesday, Cambodian representative Ney Sam Ol said criticisms of Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen have been “based on selective and unverified sources.”

“Political manipulation has been persistently conducted against my government,” Ney Sam Ol said.

“Cambodia remains committed to cooperate and partner with all U.N. human rights mechanisms and relevant stakeholders to further the promotion and protection of human rights based on mutual respect and the principle of noninterference, as mentioned in the U.N. charter and other international human rights instruments.”

Also speaking in Geneva, the representative to the Council from the UK said his country “remains deeply concerned about the use of judicial proceedings against opposition leader Kem Sokha and other opposition politicians and NGO figures, in ways that appear to be politically motivated.”

“Together with harsh restrictions on media outlets and NGOs, including the enforced closure of Cambodia Daily and the National Democratic Institute, these measures imperil multi-party democracy and free debate.”

Cambodia must now take “immediate steps to ensure that free, fair, and credible elections take place in July 2018,” the UK representative said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodia Rejects Bail Request For Opposition Chief Kem Sokha

Cambodia’s Appeals Court denied opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief Kem Sokha bail in absentia Tuesday as he awaits a trial on charges of treason, prompting his legal team to boycott the proceedings in protest.

Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington, in a move critics say shows Prime Minister Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

In the lead up to the hearing, the Ministry of Interior had said Kem Sokha would not be brought to the court from Trapeang Phlong Prison in Tbong Khmum province due to “security concerns,” after it learned that provocateurs might incite crowds planning to gather at the building.

On Tuesday, hundreds of armed security personnel were deployed on the streets surrounding the Appeals Court ahead of the hearing, which was closed to the media and the public, while dozens of opposition lawmakers and around 100 supporters stood outside calling for Kem Sokha’s release.

When authorities confirmed that the opposition leader would not be allowed to attend his hearing, Kem Sokha’s lawyers boycotted the proceedings, saying the decision was made in violation of their client’s rights. The court went ahead with the hearing and upheld Kem Sokha’s provisional detention, according to an earlier ruling by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service after the ruling, one of Kem Sokha’s lawyers, Chan Chen, said there was no precedent in which the Appeals Court had barred an appellant from their own hearing, adding that the court had acted against the standards of both local and international law.

The court’s claim that it was acting in the interest of Kem Sokha’s security was merely an excuse to prevent him from attending the proceedings, the lawyer said.

“If we appeared at the hearing, it would have seriously impacted our client’s rights, which is unacceptable,” he said.

“We are just lawyers, so we are not party to this matter. Kem Sokha was the only person that needed to appear before the court.”

In a statement in response to the boycott, the Appeals Court said Kem Sokha’s presence was unnecessary because the hearing was not evidentiary, adding that by refusing to attend, his lawyers were hurting his case. No date has been set for his trial.

Following the ruling, senior CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that his party has no plans to hold mass demonstrations calling for Kem Sokha’s release, but vowed to stand outside of the opposition leader’s prison every Monday in protest of the charges against him until he is freed.

Son Chhay added that the CNRP will continue to request visits with Kem Sokha after being refused access to the party chief twice on orders by the investigating judge that only his family members and lawyers may see him before his trial.

On Monday, the opposition party launched an advocacy campaign for the release of its leader by hanging posters bearing Kem Sokha’s image and a call for his immediate and unconditional release would be posted at CNRP offices throughout the country.

UN protest

Also on Tuesday, more than 300 members of the Cambodian diaspora held a protest in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council headquarters in Geneva demanding that the group pressure Cambodia’s government to release Kem Sokha, end human rights violations, and respect the principles of democracy by allowing for free and fair elections in 2018.

The protest was the latest by overseas Cambodians to call for Kem Sokha’s immediate and unconditional release following others held in the U.S., France, Canada, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, and South Korea.
It came a day after French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Cambodia to resume a pluralistic democracy and to respect human rights and freedom during a meeting with his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhon in Paris.

Le Drian raised serious concerns about a political crisis in Cambodia following Kem Sokha’s arrest and a recent crackdown on voices critical of the government ahead of next year’s election.

Since late August, the government has expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the newspaper’s closure.

Search suspended

Meanwhile, Pol Saroeun, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Research and Exploration Commission on Tuesday ordered provincial and municipal governments throughout Cambodia to suspend activities related to the search for the remains of missing American soldiers in the country, following accusations that the U.S. was assisting the opposition in a plot to overthrow Hun Sen.

The evidence presented against Kem Sokha so far is a video recorded in 2013 in which he discusses a strategy to win power with the help of U.S. experts, though the U.S. embassy has rejected any suggestion that Washington is interfering in Cambodian politics.

While Hun Sen first mentioned a suspension of search activities on Sept. 15, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to issue any official diplomatic to the U.S. government about the decision.

Government-aligned media outlet Fresh News has cited Hun Sen as saying the suspension of cooperation with U.S. military-led teams on search activities was a response to Washington’s halt on the issuing of most visas to senior foreign ministry officials and their families, as well as “several other issues.”

According to the U.S. government, the remains of 48 American soldiers killed during the Vietnam War have yet to be located in Cambodia.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Concerns Voiced Over Interpol's Neutrality on Eve of Assembly in Beijing

After China’s vice minister of public security Meng Hongwei took over the presidency of international police organization Interpol, human rights activists say Beijing has been misusing the crime-fighting body’s system of “red notices.”

On the eve of the opening of Interpol’s annual general assembly in Beijing, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it doubts Meng’s ability to maintain Interpol’s neutrality and to respect and protect human rights as head of the organization.

In an open letter to Interpol secretary general Jurgen Stock, HRW said the ruling Chinese Communist Party has broken Interpol regulations by issuing “politically motivated red notices” targeting peaceful critics of the regime.

“Since President Xi Jinping assumed power … the Chinese government has carried out its harshest and most systematic crackdown on human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989,” HRW China director Sophie Richardson wrote.

“Authorities have … increasingly reached beyond China’s borders to intimidate or silence those they perceive as problematic, often using law enforcement as a pretext for forcing someone to go to China,” the letter said.

Police operations codenamed Fox Hunt and Skynet have been used to bring back “hundreds” of overseas former officials wanted on corruption charges, often from jurisdictions with weak legal protections, it said.

But while Interpol’s red notice is an alert to seek the arrests of wanted persons with a view to extradition, China’s human rights record makes it a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.

“China’s record of arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearance of dissidents and activists, as well as the politicized nature of judicial proceedings in past cases of forced repatriation, raise serious concerns,” the letter said.

It said Beijing is increasingly working with foreign governments, for example, in Kenya and Egypt, to repatriate Chinese and even Taiwanese nationals with scant legal redress.

It cited the 2015 abduction of Swedish national and Hong Kong-based publisher Gui Minhai from his holiday home in Thailand and his subsequent detention at an unknown location in China, along with the repatriation of ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs from Cambodia in 2009.

“These cases demonstrate China’s disdain at home and abroad for human rights protections, including the right to a fair trial, to freedom of movement, and to be free of torture or ill-treatment,” Richardson wrote.

Politically motivated

Interpol is constitutionally obliged to operate within the parameters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the organization is barred from “undertak[ing] any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious, or racial character.”

But Beijing has “tried to control and persecute dissidents and activists abroad by issuing politically motivated red notices through Interpol,” the letter said.

One such red notice was issued against Dolkun Isa, a Uyghur man who was granted refugee status in Germany in 1996 and was subsequently naturalized as a German citizen.

According to Beijing, Isa is “wanted by the Interpol for severe criminal and violent terrorist activities including bombing, robbery and murder.”

Isa is unable to challenge the notice without the cooperation of Chinese officials, Richardson said, and China has refused to discuss the notice. However, it is believed to be behind Isa’s repeated questioning and detention in various countries that he visits or travels through.

As vice minister of public security, Meng oversees China’s powerful state security police, as well as counterterrorism teams targeting Muslim communities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, HRW said.

It said it has documented many incidents of police harassment, arbitrary detention, torture, imprisonment, or forced disappearances of individuals, particularly Uyghurs, in Xinjiang for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights.

The group called on Interpol to detail steps taken to prevent human rights abuses and unconstitutional red notices during Meng’s tenure.

Unstable regime

Wu Fan, editor in chief of the U.S.-based Chinese-language magazine Chinese Affairs, told RFA, “The persecution perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party overseas shows that this regime is extremely unstable,.”

“They are terrified that overseas forces could throw the Chinese government into crisis.”

Meanwhile, U.S.-based democracy activist Xie Zhongzhi said the cross-border detentions of five Hong Kong booksellers including U.K. national Lee Bo, and Hong Kong residents Lui Por, Lam Wing-kei, and Cheung Chi-ping had sent shock waves through the city, which was promised the maintenance of a separate jurisdiction following the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

Lee Bo was taken directly from his workplace in Hong Kong, while colleagues Lui, Lam, and Cheung were detained as soon as they crossed the border into China.

Lui, Cheung, and Lam were released with a set of instructions from China’s state security police: to reappear in Hong Kong, refute reports of their disappearance, and claim to be voluntarily helping police with their inquiries.

“Cross-border law enforcement has had a huge impact on the confidence of Hong Kong people,” Xie said. “The promise of one country, two systems, is already dead in the water.”

“It has become one country and one system.”

In July, veteran democracy activist Wei Jingsheng and fellow Chinese dissidents and journalists demonstrated outside Germany’s federal police bureau over similar concerns.

Wei told the gathering that his name has long been on the Chinese government’s Interpol wanted list, leading to his brief detention in Switzerland when he traveled there to attend an event, and said that the organization shouldn’t become “a hit man for dictatorial regimes.”

Dissidents have pointed to a precedent for such a takeover when Interpol’s predecessor organization was controlled by key figures in the German secret police during the Nazi years..

But Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock have declined to discuss their concerns, saying he doesn’t engage in politics.

With 190 member countries, Interpol is the second largest intergovernmental organization next to the United Nations.

Meng was elected president at the Interpol General Assembly held in 2016 and will serve until 2020.

China already wields increasing influence among its smaller neighbors, who have proved willing to detain dissidents fleeing persecution and send them back again without the need for Interpol’s help.

Chinese dissidents who have sought political refuge in Thailand have described a climate of fear for exiles in the country.

Reported by Lin Ping for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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Cambodia Bars Opposition Chief From Appeal Citing ‘Security Concerns’

Cambodia opposition chief Kem Sokha’s appeal hearing against his provisional detention on charges of treason will take place without him due to “security concerns,” a government-aligned media outlet reported Monday, prompting his lawyers to threaten to boycott the proceedings.

Kem Sokha, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of treason in a move critics say shows Prime Minister Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018.

CNRP lawmakers have been turned away from visiting him at Trapeang Phlong Prison in Tbong Khmum province after the investigating judge in the case said that only the party leader’s family members and lawyers may see him before his trial.

On Monday, Fresh News quoted Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak as saying Kem Sokha will not be brought to his Tuesday hearing due to “security concerns,” after the ministry learned that the “third hand” may incite crowds planning to gather at the Appeals Court in the capital.

While Khieu Sopheak did not provide details on who the ministry believes may try to stir up trouble at the hearing, his comments followed a Sept. 3 statement by Hun Sen in response to Kem Sokha’s arrest in which he referred to the U.S. government as the “third hand” in a plot by Cambodia’s opposition to overthrow his government.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Monday, Kem Sokha’s lawyer Som Sokong said that no one on the opposition chief’s legal team had received official notice of the Ministry of Interior’s decision.

He said that he and the four other lawyers representing Kem Sokha plan to attend the hearing Tuesday to challenge the court over the CNRP president’s absence, rather than the substance of his appeal.

“We will attend to debate the procedures regarding the failure by the authorities to bring Kem Sokha to the hearing,” he said.

“We will also look into the relevant international laws on this matter. We stand by our position that Kem Sokha’s presence is necessary in all judicial proceedings. Any hearing must be conducted in the presence of the charged person.”

Som Sokhong added that if the court decides to continue with the appeal against provisional detention in Kem Sokha’s absence, his legal team will need to consider whether to boycott the proceedings.

The concerns from Kem Sokha’s legal team came as senior CNRP Member of Parliament Son Chhay said he plans to lead several of his fellow opposition lawmakers and activists to the Appeals Court Tuesday to observe the hearing.

“We will also decide whether we remain in the courtroom to observe the proceedings if Kem Sokha’s lawyers choose to leave—we will cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said during a press conference he chaired at CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh.

Advocacy campaign

Son Chhay also revealed details of the opposition party’s advocacy campaign for the release of its leader, which kicked off in Kampong Cham Monday, saying posters bearing Kem Sokha’s image and a call for his immediate and unconditional release would be posted at CNRP offices throughout the country.

Responding to the CNRP’s plans, ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesperson Sok Eysan said in a statement Monday that the opposition was “walking into a fish trap.”

“This demonstrates that the whole opposition party is undeniably involved in the movement to topple the legitimate government, just like Kem Sokha,” he said.

Sok Eysan warned that the CNRP would not be exempt from the recently amended Law on Political Parties, which bans parties from associating with or using the voice, image, or written documents of anyone convicted of a criminal offense.

“The opposition party will face the newly amended law on political parties,” he said.

“If the Ministry of Interior finds that the opposition is guilty of any breaches under the new law, it can propose that the Appeals Court investigate. The fate of the opposition will be at the mercy of the mitigating circumstances.”

Son Chhay hit back at the CPP spokesperson, maintaining that the CNRP’s campaign is in adherence to law, and advising Sok Eysan to “study the constitution.”

“Kem Sokha remains innocent—the courts have not found him guilty of any crimes—and the party is advocating for his release to find justice for him,” he said.

“I also call for restraint from threats and intimidation against those who are exercising their rights guaranteed by the constitution.”

The opposition lawmaker expressed hope that a solution might be found to ease political tensions in Cambodia, calling for dialogue with the assistance of the international community, and suggesting that the country’s King Norodom Sihamoni could play a role in improving the current climate.

“Our former king used to play a much-needed role in finding solutions to Cambodia’s conflicts and I believe that our current king may intervene in this current crisis,” he said of Sihamoni, who is currently abroad in an undisclosed location seeking medical treatment.

“I am optimistic about dialogue. We shouldn’t be perceived as a nation that is always involved in internal conflict and we should be able to find a way out soon.”

Royal request

Son Chhay’s hopes for an intervention by the king followed a letter published on Sunday by veteran politician Lu Lay Sreng, a former senior member of the royalist Funcinpec party, calling on Sihamoni to return to Cambodia to help mediate between the CPP and CNRP.

“We are saddened and worried, as our hearts lack comfort in this toxic environment, after the Law on Political Parties was amended, NGOs have been shut down, and several radio stations and independent media outlets were banned,” the letter said.

“The two main political parties are now locking horns. We would find comfort again if you return to Cambodia to mediate for a solution to this.”

Since Aug. 22, the government has expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the outlet’s closure.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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