Minsitry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin elaborated on the decision to not intervene in court cases brought against some members of the Candlelight Party.
According to Malin, Candlelight Party vice-president Son Chhay publicly urged the ministry to make the courts drop all charges against his party members or at least delay proceedings such as the issuance of summonses for hearings until after the commune council elections set for June 5.
After his meeting with Chhay on May 3, Malin took to Facebook to explain that the decision to drop charges or grant bail is under the jurisdiction of the judiciary, an independent institution that must base its rulings on facts and the law. This, Malin said, means that his ministry has no lawful power to interfere with the proceedings.
“Only by participating in the court proceedings can the defendants help themselves. They should find defence lawyers who can make arguments on their behalf and explain the legal procedures to them,” he said.
Regarding Chhay’s other request to delay summoning the defendants until after the elections, Malin reiterated that the ministry did not have any power under the law to order the court to do so, though they could submit scheduling-related requests.
On the contrary, however, he said the ministry hoped the court would expedite the proceedings in order to ease the overcrowding in prisons and help clear the backlog of court cases.
“The ministry accepted the request for consideration but also requested that the Candlelight Party instruct their activists to respect the law if they want to avoid these troubles with law enforcement,” he said.
Chhay told The Post on May 4 that he also requested the higher courts to keep an eye on the lower courts’ actions in some provinces, which he said had issued summonses to 30 of his party activists – including commune election candidates – and had done so “without suitable reasons”.
He said he regarded the summonses and the court proceedings as open threats that could have a chilling effect on Cambodia’s political climate in the lead-up to the elections, in a way that will possibly undermine the very principle of holding a free and fair election.
The Candlelight Party, he said, wished to see the ministry act according to its designated role and fulfill its duties according to the law without any discrimination based on political tendencies.
“[Candlelight Party activists] did not do anything illegal. They never said anything or did anything that affected national security, so the court couldn’t have had any good reason to summon or arrest them,” he said, citing as an example the case of a former activist of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who was arrested and placed in jail simply for joining the Candlelight Party.
National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Som Sorida said the NEC did not possess any mechanisms that would allow them to interfere with or resolve any court cases. He said the NEC only works on technical and administrative matters related to the elections in accordance with the law.
He was of the view that what Chhay was requesting of the ministry was its help easing the tensions between various local-level or provincial authorities and his party’s members.
“These are two separate issues. What Chhay was saying about what he called ‘threats’ – court summons and charges against his party members – was intended to ease tensions for his party members with the sub-national authorities by drawing [the ministry’s] attention to the situation,” he said.