Days after a group of opposition lawmakers cited their parliamentary immunity in refusing a court summons for questioning regarding a violent July protest, a party official without that protection was charged with insurrection and summonsed over the same incident.
Two more Cambodia National Rescue Party youth activists have also been hit with new court summons, while three other CNRP youth arrested almost two weeks ago remain behind bars after bail was rejected last week.
Another bail hearing will not be held at the Appeal Court until August 22, a judge told the Post yesterday, despite a CNRP spokesman saying that top leaders were still lobbying the ruling party to secure their release.
Meach Sovannara – who ran unsuccessfully as a lawmaker in Banteay Meanchey in last July’s election and who serves as the party’s head of information – yesterday became the latest CNRP official to be hit with serious charges related to the protest, which saw supporters clash with district security guards at Freedom Park on July 15.
According to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court summons, Sovannara has been charged with “leading an insurrection, inciting others to commit a felony, and instigating aggravated violence”.
The charges are the same laid against the eight CNRP officials – seven lawmakers and one youth activist – who were released from prison hours after a political deal ending the deadlock was inked on July 22.
That group, excluding the activist, is now seemingly off the hook after taking their seats in parliament.
Yesterday, speaking on the phone from France, Sovannara insinuated he was the latest pawn caught up in a political game being played by the ruling CPP.
“If the one-party government of Mr Hun Sen wants to have national unity and national reconciliation, [with us] respecting each other according to an agreement reached between the Cambodia National Rescue Party and Cambodian People’s Party on July 22, then all this must end,” he said.
He will return early next week and appear in court, he added, despite labelling it a “political tool” being used by Prime Minister Hun Sen to intimidate the opposition.
Meanwhile, CNRP youths San Seyhak and Tep Narin said yesterday that they had also been summonsed to court related to the same case, though it remains unclear whether they have been charged.
“I am not scared, because I have not done anything wrong,” Seyhak said, adding that the summons for August 27, which he has not seen, was sent to his family home.
Narin said CNRP colleagues had told him a court official had appeared with the summons for him yesterday but left when he could not be found, so he does not know the date.
Both say they will respect the summons.
The change in the court’s focus from lawmakers who possess immunity to underlings who don’t has observers speculating that the ruling CPP is sending a signal to the opposition faithful that the July 22 political agreement is not the silver bullet that CNRP leaders have been presenting it as.
Political commentator Ou Virak said that the premier was trying to undermine CNRP leader Sam Rainsy with his supporters, because Rainsy had been “trying to sell the deal by saying that because of the deal, he can get people out [of prison]”.
With it appearing that he can’t do that so easily, the CPP will be hoping to create some divisions, Virak said.
“He’s also likely not just going after the smaller guys [because they don’t have immunity], but also maybe to show that leaders are sitting home in luxury while showing what the real activists actually protesting are now getting out of all of this.”
Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy public affairs head, said that she too believed that the CPP was trying to create divisions in the opposition.
“They want to anger our supporters that we made this deal, and we cannot get our activists out of the court,” she said.
But government spokesman Phay Siphan said that if the opposition wanted to fight impunity, as they have frequently proclaimed, they have to walk the walk and not present their members as “untouchable”.
“They have to maintain that in their own principles and fight against impunity. It doesn’t mean all the big guys [should] always get out from under the law.”