As CNRP acting president Kem Sokha once again refused to heed a summons to appear in court yesterday, government forces and Sokha’s supporters amassed in the capital just streets away from each other.
Hundreds of riot and traffic police – equipped with guns, shields, batons and truck-mounted barriers – were deployed on Hun Sen Boulevard, only a few streets away from the CNRP’s headquarters where hundreds of CNRP supporters had congregated in anticipation of an attempt to arrest Sokha.
However, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak cited increased traffic on National Road 2 and protection of the CNRP supporters as reasons for the heavy police presence.
Sopheak denied that police were there to arrest Sokha.
“Crowding [around the CNRP office] is why we deployed the police. If anyone throws a grenade then what do we do? We were defending this [CNRP] group,” he said.
Last month, following Sokha’s refusal to appear in court, police had attempted to arrest him but were deterred by party supporters outside the CNRP headquarters. Sokha has been holed up in the building ever since.
Meanchey district authorities yesterday issued a statement saying that the gathering – including a tent – outside the headquarters had been disrupting traffic and was illegal. The tent would have to be taken down within a week, it said.
Speaking to supporters at the party’s office on National Road 2 yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said that the group had congregated only to monitor the situation, reiterating that there were no intentions to hold a march.
“We would like to tell the authorities not to worry, the supporters here will not march anywhere,” Chhay Eang said.
Following yesterday’s court hearing, Sam Sokong, one of Sokha’s four lawyers, said they had informed the judge of the legal rationale behind Sokha’s refusal to respond to the court’s summonses. “Our client is protected by Article 80 [of the constitution], and our client’s immunity has not been suspended or stripped,” Sokong said.
A one-party vote in the National Assembly allowed for the prosecution against Sokha to continue under a constitutional loophole, but did not strip his immunity.
Sokong added that the investigating judge had given no indication of whether their request to drop the case would be upheld or not.
However, court spokesman Ly Sophanna said the four lawyers appearing in place of Sokha was “useless”.
“Lawyers cannot answer instead of their client who is the accused man,” Sophanna added. “Therefore, there is no use for lawyers to appear before the investigating judge.”
He said the investigating judge would continue to take action based on judicial procedures.
Later in the day, CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann decried the charges, and asked supporters to keep vigil at party offices.
However, following his speech, supporter numbers thinned to less than 100, with the police deployment also leaving Hun Sen Boulevard.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara