The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summonsed several prominent members of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement to appear in a case that alleges a plot to overthrow the Cambodian government.
The summonses, dated March 30, were issued by Prosecutor Sieng Sok to former opposition President Sam Rainsy, his wife and former lawmaker Tioulong Saumura, former party Vice President Eng Chhay Eang, and former lawmakers Ho Vann, Nut Romduol and Tok Vanchan. They are accused of “attempting to overthrow the legitimate government” and other crimes.
The accusation mirrors the one levelled against the politicians’ party – the Cambodia National Rescue Party – which was forcibly dissolved in November. Observers have condemned the move as a way for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to rid the electoral field of its only viable challenger ahead of this year’s elections. The CNRM was launched in January by Rainsy and others in order to advocate for the reinstatement of the CNRP and the release of its imprisoned president, Kem Sokha. It was quickly branded a “terrorist group” by the government.
The summonses for all six were identical, demanding they “be questioned for founding the CNRM, inciting to cause chaos in society, affecting national security and attempting to overthrow the legitimate government of Cambodia”.
None of the six summonsed are currently in the country.
The earliest summons, for Chhay Eang, demands that he appear in court on May 23, a request he does not plan to honour.
“I am not interested or surprised,” Chhay Eang said in an interview on Wednesday, describing the Cambodian justice system as a “puppet court”.
He denied wanting to overthrow the government, instead insisting that CNRM is a “nonviolent” advocate for the release of Sokha and the reinstatement of the CNRP.
“I will not play with the court because it is the tool of Hun Sen,” he said. “There is no value for us to confront them because we will never win.”
Rainsy, who had not yet seen the summons, questioned its legal basis.
“Probably another expedient invention by a paranoid Hun Sen’s CPP,” he said via email.
CNRM founding member Mu Sochua, who has not yet received a summons, said the accusations were “nothing new” and were only meant to instil fear in supporters who might want to join the movement.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, meanwhile, said the summons are “according to Cambodian court procedure”.
He acknowledged the suspects would likely not contest the charges in court, claiming they are “only brave from far away . . . and doing incitement from outside”.
Eysan added that more people will be summonsed in this case in the future.