At least nine police checkpoints on the major entry points into Phnom Penh have been set up ahead of today’s trial of acting CNRP president Kem Sokha, with the opposition claiming supporters were being hindered from attending a party rally.
The checkpoints, manned by provincial, district, traffic and military police, were set up on national roads 1 through 6 on the outskirts of the capital in Kandal province, according to rights group Licadho.
The Post visited four of the checkpoints yesterday, and though most appeared to be simple traffic posts, each were manned by at least a dozen armed security personnel.
The security posts were set up days before Sokha’s trial – on charges stemming from his refusal to appear for court summonses – and coincide with City Hall’s green light for a rally of opposition supporters at party headquarters to “observe” the proceedings.
Police officials at the posts said they had been deployed to carry out traffic checks, maintain security and monitor any untoward import of weapons and explosives. They uniformly insisted the checks had nothing to do with Sokha’s pending trial.
A police officer at a checkpoint on National Road 1 in Kandal’s Kien Svay district said he had been deployed there by his senior officer to protect the “ring roads” leading in to Phnom Penh.
A nearby motodop, Vun Vith, said the personnel had been deployed there for several days; they hadn’t left the post and, he claimed, were stationed to block people from entering the capital.
Kandal provincial police chief Eav Chamroeun said the authorities would keep an eye on CNRP supporters entering the city as well.
“Do you think it is good idea to allow people to flock into Phnom Penh and create traffic jams? Why would you ask me this question?” he said.
On being asked how many checkpoints had been set up in the province as of yesterday, Chamrouen said: “Brother, you drive your motorbike and have a look at all the roads across Phnom Penh and count them.”
He added that if people flocked to the city on Friday, authorities would have to “implement the law”.
CNRP party spokesman Yim Sovann said the presence of the checkpoints around the city’s access routes was clearly aimed at blocking party supporters.
“Why are they barring supporters from coming here?” he asked. “All the roads are blocked, but some of the supporters are taking motos or walking to get here.”
Sovann said the CNRP had received reports that some supporters coming in from Kampot, Svay Rieng and Takeo provinces had already been turned back.
Takeo police chief Ouk Samnang and Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Khoung Sreng both offered the same reasons for the deployment.
However, Sreng added: “If you [CNRP] follow the law, there will be no problem, but when you break the law, you will have a problem.”
Sokha received backing ahead of his trial from US Representative Edward Royce, a Republican from California and a long-time champion of the opposition who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US House of Representatives.
In a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Royce described the cases against the opposition as “spurious and politically motivated”, and said they had led to “the continued deterioration of democracy in Cambodia”.
“Without the full and free participation of the CNRP, the results of future elections will be deeply flawed, something we can simply not accept,” Royce wrote, adding that Hun Sen should “stop harassing and brutalizing Kem Sokha and other opposition leaders”.
Separately, the CNRP released a statement that once again called on the court to drop the charges against Sokha, with the party classifying the case as “illegal” because he retains his parliamentary immunity.
Party lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang also asked the ruling CPP to start negotiations, adding that a political solution was the only way to end the stalemate.
“The CNRP would like to call for the parties to meet and talk to seek a solution,” he said. “A real solution is not based on the courts, but on negotiations.”
Separately, Sokha’s five lawyers filed a motion with the Appeal Court yesterday asking it to swap out trial judge Keo Mony, saying he had tried multiple opposition cases and was biased.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophanna said defence lawyers had a right to request a change of judge, and it would be considered based on the law and the court’s procedures.