More than 20 people have been either arrested or charged with “plotting” since Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), announced his return to the Kingdom next month.
The majority of the arrests have come after September 20, when the Ministry of Justice said Rainsy’s plan to arrest Prime Minister Hun Sen using “people power” amounted to a coup.
Five people were charged with “plotting” on Monday by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, including two former CNRP commune officials who were arrested in the capital.
Former Prek Pra commune chief Khen Sokheang and Tit Sophat, an ex-Phsar Depot II commune council member, were arrested on Monday, police and CNRP activists said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterated on Monday that those who express support for Rainsy on social media risk arrest.
“If you just post on Facebook [encouraging] participation in this campaign, you will be arrested. It is not freedom of expression, it is participation in plotting to topple the government using armed force,” he said.
Last month, Rainsy said the CNRP had a budget in place for soldiers who defected from the prime minister.
Analysts said an extensive awareness campaign was needed to educate the public on the consequences of supporting Rainsy’s return.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said: “People should exercise their constitutional rights within the limits set by the Constitution. They should bear in mind that there cannot be freedom without self-restraint.
“If arrested, they should claim their right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal as guaranteed under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Sok Touch, the president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, recommended the government produce a campaign to warn the public against joining Rainsy. He said a handful of factors like land disputes had enamoured the public to Rainsy.
“Rainsy relies on the strength of his support and indicates he will use it to pressure the government into a political compromise. But this will actually cause difficulty for his supporters,” Touch said.
Former CNRP senior official Meach Sovannara echoed Mong Hay by saying the government should warn the public against supporting Rainsy. He said Rainsy supporters should be made aware of the political climate and be reminded that they risk being arrested or having to flee the country.
“The government should call those who have been charged to the commune police station for education as the first step. The second step should be to fine them and tell them that they face jail if they continue,” Sovannara said.
Rainsy supporters were confused as to whether they were on a violent or non-violent path, Sovannara said, adding that Hun Sen and Rainsy should avoid using Cambodians as pawns.
“We should not use force to arrest [people] without first having educated them because doing so lacks virtue. Of course we must respect the rule of law, but we must also have virtue,” Sovannara said.
The Ministry of Justice in September said those involved in Rainsy’s plot were looking at five to 10 years in prison, with civil servants facing double that.
Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said the government had warned the public many times against supporting Rainsy, using radio, television, educational spots and social media.
“It is not because they don’t understand, they want to do it because they have the impression they will get some position or refugee status abroad.
“They want to follow orders from an illegally organised group and challenge the legitimate authorities, but this will lead them on the wrong path and the risk of being charged and arrested,” Malin said.
Malin said the courts had issued numerous statements discouraging involvement, adding that suspects may be pardoned if they were to confess.