Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua yesterday joined a long list of her CNRP colleagues who have chosen to leave the country since the arrest of party leader Kem Sokha, with the deputy party president saying yesterday that she had been warned of her imminent arrest by a “senior government official”.
Her departure came a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened action against “rebels” and “foreign slaves” during a speech in Siem Reap province. In the same speech, the premier referred to “senior officials” who had made “rude comments” in Kampong Thom, Siem Reap and Prea Vihear – provinces Sochua had visited in the last week to meet with party officials.
Sochua left from Phnom Penh yesterday after she had been notified by a senior government official that she would potentially be arrested next week, she said, adding there was a clear link to the premier’s speech on Monday and a series of provincial speeches she had given in the last seven days.
“I have confirmation from a senior government official that the arrest would happen next week. I cannot say who or from which ministry,” she said, shortly before departing the country.
“He [Hun Sen] has made clear references to three speeches made in the provinces by me and my two colleagues.”
Nearly half of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s sitting lawmakers are currently overseas, with some leaving following the arrest of party President Kem Sokha on widely decried charges of “treason”. Also outside of the country are Sokha’s daughters, Kem Monovithya – also a party official – and Kem Samathida, along with party youth leader Hing Soksan.
Sochua said the current situation was not simply about the destruction of the CNRP, but in fact the destruction of democracy itself in Cambodia.
“The CNRP is not falling apart. But we cannot afford to live according to moods of the prime minister, who one day decides this and decides that on another,” she said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak would not explicitly confirm that Sochua was targeted for arrest, but did obliquely acknowledge her involvement in the Sokha probe.
“Mu Sochua has used the party and has involved herself in this [case],” Sopheak said. “We have seen her go [to the provinces] for a few days, so this is like this because of her. If she had not done this, she would not be involved.”
He added that the possibility of arresting other CNRP lawmakers would depend on the court’s investigation into Sokha’s “treason” charges, but National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith maintained yesterday that the investigation was making progress.
“We have already got some [leads] for this case. We cannot leak it, and we will continue to [investigate] it,” he said. “We really have results.”
CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann, one of Sochua’s companions on her provincial trip, yesterday said he was apprehensive but would continue to remain in the country, calling Sochua’s departure a personal decision.
“If they want to arrest us, we do not know what to do,” he said. “We cannot just leave Kem Sokha, because he has sacrificed [for us] and now he is jailed.”
The other lawmaker on the trip, Ky Vandara, could not be reached yesterday. Party chief whip Son Chhay, who in the past has said the departed lawmakers would “return soon”, also could not be reached.
Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said the lawmakers’ departures showed that “newly minted dictator Hun Sen” was capable of ordering instant violence and intended on persisting with this intimidation, rendering next year’s scheduled elections meaningless.
“If all the key CNRP leaders are forced out of the country using this bogus allegation they are involved in some sort of imaginary color revolution against the government, this will effectively mean the death of Cambodian democracy,” he said via email.
Meanwhile, three international labour advocacy groups – the Clean Clothes Campaign, the Worker Rights Consortium and the International Labor Rights Forum – yesterday called on clothing brands that source from Cambodia to condemn the recent “repression” of the opposition and independent media outlets, which they said would have an impact on the labour sector.
“Without basic freedoms and a government that respects human rights, workers and trade unions, the garment sector will suffer”, said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum.