Pro-government unions have seemingly launched a concerted legal campaign on voices calling for sanctions, targeting 118 opposition officials already banned from politics for five years, as well as an independent labour leader who had encouraged international action against the government.
One-hundred-and-twenty union leaders filed a complaint to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against former Free Trade Union leader Chea Mony, who asked the EU and US to halt imports from Cambodia in an interview with Radio Free Asia on Friday.
One of the plaintiffs said he also plans to file a lawsuit against the banned former officials of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was summarily dissolved by a widely condemned Supreme Court ruling over accusations it was fomenting a foreign backed “revolution”.
The complaint against Mony accuses him of “incitement” and demands $1 million in compensation.
“The word of Mony shows two big tricks: first, asking the EU and also buyers to stop their orders [from Cambodia], and second, it is an incitement to make all workers upset and hate the royal government and then stand up against [them],” the complaint reads, adding that 700,000 workers risk losing their jobs.
Mony yesterday said he was unconcerned by the complaint. “I am not worried at all … We all know that [even] Prime Minister [Hun Sen] said ‘please cut it’,” he said, referring to a speech made by the premier on Sunday in which he appeared to goad the EU to take action. “But I request the court to be independent.”
One of the plaintiffs, Long Sophat, of pro-government Youth Spirit Confederation for Cambodian Labour, said he would also file a court complaint against the 118 CNRP officials but declined to provide details. “It is still the plan related to the opposition party,” he said.
On Sunday, his union issued a statement asking the government to freeze assets, block passports, ban money transfers and suspend bank accounts of the 118 former politicians, claiming they were attempting to “destroy peace, political stability and development” by allegedly asking the European Union to suspend the preferential trade agreement with Cambodia.
The mostly senior CNRP officials were banned from politics when their party was dissolved. Citing the dissolution, the European Parliament last week passed a resolution asking the European Commission to impose visa sanctions, freeze assets of government officials and to consider temporarily suspending Cambodia’s preferential trade agreement.
Mu Sochua, former deputy leader of the opposition, called a potential lawsuit against the former opposition leaders, including her, “more mockery of justice”.
She suspected the government may be behind the request. “The courts are in the hands of Hun Sen, who uses these pro-networks to file lawsuits and propose recommendations,” she said.
Leading up to the opposition party’s dissolution, a series of complaints against the CNRP from seemingly peripheral pro-ruling party individuals and minor opposition parties preceded the Ministry of Interior complaint to the Supreme Court that precipitated the party’s dissolution.
Sophat, however, denied any outside influence. “No one needs to force us to do that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government had the “responsibility” to send this complaint and request to the court. “The authority has the obligation to guarantee the complaint is sent to the Ministry of Interior, and the complaint needs to fall into the court’s hand,” he said.
Interior Ministry Secretary of State Pol Lim declined to comment.
Human rights expert Billy Chia-Lung Tai said neither the freezing of CNRP assets, nor the cancelling of passports, would be in conformity with international law.
“It is entirely possible for the government to restrict the movement of people who are under investigation, summoned to court or convicted persons waiting to serve their sentence so that they don’t just skip town,” he said. But as this is not the case for officials banned from politics, Tai said, there is no reason under local or international law “to restrict their ability to travel abroad”.
Tai also said potentially preventing Cambodian nationals who have left the country amid the crackdown from returning would be “absurd”. “Cancelling someone’s passport while they are abroad would effectively render them stateless, which goes against one of the most fundamental international law principles,” he said.
Independent unionist Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said that he disagreed with calls for sanctions but encouraged the government to heed international criticism of its recent actions.
“We do not want to see the EU impose the economic sanction either . . . [but] what we want is the government to do as suggested by the EU and solve the problem,” he said.