Another five local officials of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and two supporters were summoned for questioning on Wednesday as “suspects” on grounds of allegedly violating the Supreme Court ruling that dissolved the former opposition party in November 2017.
Chea Chiv, former CNRP executive committee chief for Battambang province, said on Thursday that seven more people had received summonses ordering them to appear before the provincial court.
They are to appear in next Wednesday and Thursday, as well as the following Thursday and Friday.
Puok Lyhak, a former CNRP Battambang provincial executive committee member, and ex-commune chiefs Khan Bunpheng and Roeun Keb were summoned on Thursday.
Phan Reth, a former first deputy commune chief, Thong Saroeun, an ex-district executive committee head, and party supporters Sin San and Sim Lao have also been ordered to appear before the court.
On Tuesday, five people received court summonses, including prominent former O’Char commune chief Sin Rozeth.
Former commune chiefs Mok Ra and Khoun Chamroeun were also called before the court, as were Dim Saroeun, a former provincial council member, and Kong Bunhang an ex-provincial level party leader.
Khan Bunpheng said on Thursday that he was still unaware of the full reasons behind the summonses.
“I have never made strong criticisms that seriously affected other people. I made some criticisms, but these were not serious. As citizens, we just made constructive criticism because we wanted to see some changes for the sake of the nation."
“If we can’t even do this, then they should announce that people should not express their opinions and that we don’t have the right to express our opinions or protest against anything. The constitution stipulates that every citizen has the right to express constructive criticism and voice opinions, as well as believe in any party they like."
“We only expressed our opinions and they say that we have opposed the Supreme Court’s ruling. But of what I have done in the past, there has been nothing in contravention of the law,” he said.
Khan Bunpheng said that earlier this year, he met with other former party members for a chat at a Khmer noodle shop run by Rozeth, and they had shown their support for CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy being made “acting president” of the party. The gathering was not meant to oppose the government or conduct illegal activities, he said.
Keu Bunnara, the prosecutor who issued the summonses and spokesman for Battambang provincial court, could not be reached for comment by The Post on Thursday.
Battambang provincial police chief Ouch Sokhon said he was unaware of the matter and referred questions to the court.
Chiv said he was of the view that the summonses were meant as threats to weaken the spirit of officials and supporters of the former opposition party at the grassroots level.
“This is the use of the judicial system by powerful people. Furthermore, this case involves injustices related to the dissolution of the party. The [CNRP] was voted for by people of their own will."
“This is also a restriction on the right to express opinions, which is guaranteed by law and the Cambodian Constitution,” Chiv said.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said that in the phase in which people are summoned for questioning, the official charges have not yet been levelled against them. He said the court only summoned people for questioning to collect further information.
“The court has just summoned these people and not yet told them the reasons why because at this stage they have not yet been officially charged. If [the court] questions them and the suspects say they have made [any wrongdoing] then the court would charge them.
“The court can detain them if it discovers they had committed a crime. Normally, the prosecutor is not the one who decides to detain suspects, but he would forward the case to a judge."
“If the court wants to detain them, as we have seen done in the past, then the prosecutor would question and charge them, and send the suspects before a judge. The judge could then decide to detain them right away,” Sam Oeun explained.
Ministry of Justice spokesperson Kim Santepheap told The Post on Thursday that the issuing of the summonses followed the law.
“I want to state that the court’s action follows the law regarding people suspected of engaging in crimes. The suspects summoned should attend the court hearing to defend themselves before the law,” he said.