Opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha were questioned at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, but were released without charge in a case they say amounts to nothing more than political machinations by the ruling party.
The duo, along with unionist Rong Chhun, arrived at the court separately yesterday morning to face questioning over claims they incited garment workers to commit crimes and disrupt social order after their strikes took a violent turn earlier this month.
“They just asked us questions in order to assess our possible involvement in the worker demonstrations, so we have explained to them [that] even though we support the workers’ cause, we have never been involved in any act of violence,” Rainsy said at a press conference following the questioning.
The CNRP had simply provided “moral and intellectual support to workers”, he said.
Thousands rallied outside the court for almost five hours in the morning and early afternoon yesterday as opposition politicians, waiting for questioning, appeared sporadically at the building’s windows to vociferous chanting from the crowd.
Street packed as CNRP, unions face court
When they finally emerged at close to 2pm, the leaders briefly greeted the crowd before leading a motorbike rally back to the Cambodia National Rescue Party offices in Meanchey district.
There, they regaled the crowd with tales of the verbal sparring that had occurred between the leaders and court deputy prosecutor Heang Sopheak.
“I told the prosecutor that I have supported the workers for 20 years, so why [have you accused] me at this time,” Rainsy said. “[The CNRP’s] political platform has workers’ minimum wage at $160 since before the election, so why do you [accuse] me at this time?”
Sokha told supporters that he had turned the tables on the prosecutor.
“I asked the prosecutor back, whatever you accuse me, question me, come on, question me freely. But I ask you one question in return. The shooters [of garment workers], have you summonsed them to questioning? But I looked at the prosecutor’s face, and there seemed to be a hammer pounding [on him] from the top.
“If there is no political pressure from the top ordering the prosecutor, or the court to do something, the issue would be finished, because we have done nothing wrong,” he said.
A political solution to the ongoing deadlock, Rainsy told reporters, would see the case disappear.
“The problem is a political one, as long as there is no political solution yet, there will be a judicial issue pending. But when there is a political solution, then the judicial issue will disappear,” he said.
The leaders added that they had told the prosecutor they had not seen workers acting violently against the armed forces and their party had not incited the workers to protest.
Deputy prosecutor Sopheak confirmed yesterday that he had summonsed the opposition leaders for clarification regarding claims they had incited workers, emphasising that they were still under investigation.
“If they still commit [similar problems] anywhere, and there are any more problems, [we] can summons them [again],” he warned.
Sopheak declined to respond to allegations that he was pursuing the case due to political pressure, adding that this was a politician’s illusion.
Council of Ministers spokesman Tith Sothea dismissed this allegation yesterday, saying that anyone who broke the law would be held liable in the Kingdom.
“We cannot paint this as politically motivated or [say] that the court is under the pressure of the government. This is a long-held accusation of the opposition party but [it is not true],” he said.
Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association and the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, faced questioning first yesterday morning, as tension built outside the court following Kem Sokha’s arrival at about 9am.
The crowd, numbering about 1,000 at that point, appeared restless, with some groups chasing helmeted district security guards into the grounds of the Olympic Stadium when they were spotted.
Tensions were largely defused when CNRP security intervened to calm the crowd. Rainsy arrived at about 10am, following which the crowd swelled to a few thousand and news arrived the Chhun had not been charged.
Community land activists Tim Sakmony and Phuong Sopheap, two opposition supporters waiting for Rainsy and Sokha in front of the court, wished for a parallel scenario, one in which Hun Sen and other government officials were summonsed to the International Criminal Court.
“Please ICC, summons Hun Sen, [defence minister] Tea Banh and [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng for conviction,” Sakmony said.