Two former CNRP members were questioned at the Pailin Provincial Court yesterday in relation to a complaint allegedly filed by three ethnic Vietnamese individuals after the duo questioned their nationality during the 2016 voter registration process.
However, Cambodia National Rescue Party officials yesterday claimed that the complaint was filed by the three ethnic Vietnamese only under duress from ruling party officials after the opposition members rebuffed multiple attempts to get them to defect to the Cambodian People’s Party.
The accused – Keo Bunthorn, also a former commune councillor, and Chan Sithat – had filed complaints with the National Election Committee in 2016 questioning the nationality of the three individuals – Long Sokha, Sok Bunly and Kem Leang. The three were seeking to register to vote, while the two opposition representatives were observing the registration drive for irregularities. Their complaint against the three registrants was ultimately dismissed by electoral authorities.
However, the CNRP members were summonsed by the provincial court and questioned yesterday about their initial 2016 complaint, and have been accused of malicious denunciation – a charge that carries a penalty of up to a year in prison and a maximum $500 fine.
“I told [the court] that I had not filed the complaint to defame anyone,” Bunthorn said on the phone. “I filed the complaint because I represent my party and I was the observer.”
Bunthorn and Sithat yesterday claimed the case was “politically motivated”.
CNRP members around the country have reported a pattern of intense surveillance and intimidation by police and ruling Cambodian People’s Party officials seeking to convince them to defect following the opposition’s widely condemned dissolution in November over accusations it was fomenting “revolution”.
In the run up to the November 16 dissolution, CNRP officials at all levels said their movements were being recorded and restricted. They also faced increased pressure to defect to the CPP following an amnesty offer from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Sithat said the complaint was directly linked to their reluctance to join the ruling party.
“I think that it is like intimidation to scare us to not become political activists in the future. Some of my co-workers were persuaded to join [the CPP], but we did not join,” he said.
While the three complainants could not be reached for comment yesterday, former CNRP Stung Kach Commune Chief Pich Borin said he had spoken to them and they had denied wanting to file the complaint.
He added that the CPP was being opportunistic by using the CNRP’s 2016 complaint, which challenged the complainants’ registration on the grounds they were “foreigners”.
“The [CPP] forced [the three] to file the complaint because the CNRP had accused them of being Vietnamese, but the party did not use the words ‘Vietnam’ or ‘Yuon’,” he said, referring to an often used offensive epithet for Vietnamese people.
“They [the complainants] said that they cannot afford to file such a complaint.”
Borin’s accusations were quickly denied by Nou Sokun, the CPP’s deputy district chief, who said the ruling party had nothing to do with the case.
“For the case, I have no knowledge. We and the CNRP are like the sky and the ground. We are not involved with them at all,” he said.