Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Saturday dismissed criticism that the government had abused human rights in its pursuit of suspects implicated in a “plot” to topple the legitimate government.
In a Facebook post, Sar Kheng defended the arrests of “coup” plotters and called on politicians and the public to express solidarity on November 9 against what he dubbed an outlawed rebel movement.
Sar Kheng, who is also deputy prime minister, was referring to a call by Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), to overthrow the government.
Rainsy has promised the return of the CNRP leadership to the Kingdom on November 9 when he claims to return.
“I wish to stress that legal action against anyone attempting to destroy peace, political stability and national solidarity and to incite others to commit violent acts in a bid to overthrow the government is justified and not an abuse of democratic rights,” Sar Kheng said.
Sar Kheng stressed that it was illegal and undemocratic of Rainsy to repeatedly call on the armed forces to rise against the government, set up funds to support his armed rebellion, incite the people to unite against the government, insult the King in public and demand that he abdicate.
He said Rainsy’s planned return to the Kingdom on November 9 amounted to an “absolute rebellion” as it would destroy peace and national unity and is an attempt to cause turbulence as the Kingdom prepares to celebrate the annual Water Festival.
Sar Kheng said this is a complete opposite of Rainsy’s return from self-exile in 2013 when he received a royal pardon after being convicted on numerous charges and competed in the national elections as a legitimate party leader.
“At the time it was legal for his well-wishers and supporters to escort him upon his return. But this time, it is completely different. If he ever returns, he would do so as a convict and the leader of an outlawed rebellion,” he said.
He urged politicians and the public to refrain from any attempted uprising and instead demonstrate national solidarity by eating ambok (flattened rice) in celebration of the Water Festival.
Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath dismissed the arrests of Rainsy supporters as a blatant abuse of human rights. He said their support for Rainsy’s promised return was not evidence of a rebellion against the government.
“It is far too obsessive for the government to take such a preventative measure. Their support [for Rainsy’s return] should not be deemed a plot to topple the government. They should be treated as victims who are unaware of Rainsy’s plans,” he said.
Rights group Adhoc spokesman Soeng Sen Karuna echoed Chanrath’s claims. He alleged that the government had used the judicial system to exert pressure on the supporters of Rainsy’s return and therefore abused their rights.
“This simply stemmed from political conflict. It amounts to a rights abuse when you take legal action against those who have done nothing against the law,” he said.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
The Post could not reach National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun for comment. But he has previously accused some civil society organisations of speaking for Rainsy while being unfairly critical of the government.