Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders yesterday labelled the arrests of three members of the party’s youth wing on Saturday an act of “intimidation” contrary to the spirit of the July 22 agreement to end the CNRP’s boycott of parliament.
Kheun Chamreoun, an elected district councillor and head of the party’s youth movement in Phnom Penh, councillor San Kim Heng and 25-year-old Tuol Kork district youth movement treasurer Neang Sokhoun became the latest to be arrested on charges related to a violent July 15 protest in Freedom Park.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy yesterday accused the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of using the threat of legal action to pressure the opposition to take its seats in the National Assembly before stalled working group negotiations could reach an agreement.
“This is very worrying because it is contrary to the spirit of the joint statement that the CNRP and CPP issued before the July 22 meeting. In that statement … the two parties decided to diffuse political tension, but their actions have only increased the tensions,” he said.
Seven opposition lawmakers and an activist were arrested in the immediate wake of the July 15 protest, which saw several irregular security force members sustain injuries.
All eight were released hours after an agreement was reached to end the deadlock on July 22. However, outstanding charges could see them face decades in prison if found guilty.
On Friday, they were summonsed to appear in court again later this month to answer further questions along with CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha.
Councillor Chamreoun was charged with the same offences as the eight previously detained, while Kim Heng and Sokhoun were charged with intentional violence, joining an insurrection and violence against civil servants, according to their lawyer, Sam Sok Kong.
CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua, who was one of those jailed last month, said the continued arrests and threats of legal action were part of a campaign of intimidation.
“It’s all about intimidation, about trying to make us live in fear,” she said. “Do we accept to live in fear? We do not.”
Several government officials could not be reached to respond to the allegations of intimidation yesterday, but a statement from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit denied there was a political motive behind the arrests.
“The arrest of these three individuals is the proper enforcement of procedure, according to the complaint of the victims, in taking action against the individuals who broke the law,” the statement reads.
Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said it was fear of a popular uprising that fuelled the government’s crackdown on the opposition.
“Hun Sen was concerned that the rising people power movement would topple the government, as has happened in countries in the Middle East,” he said. “The government seems to be very worried about this, and we see all the charges are for insurrection.”
Political analyst Kem Ley painted Hun Sen as a master tactician accustomed to outmanoeuvring opponents.
“Hun Sen has played the game of political chess for a very long time, since 1993. His tactics were not obvious before, but later, people began to understand. Even though people are not used to playing his game, they can now see that it is political manoeuvring,” he said.
Rainsy said that while the party would do all it could to assist its jailed members, it would not waver in its demands for reform.
“We will keep insisting that our goals are met,” he said.
Talks between the two working groups stalled late last week after a deal was reached to amend the internal rules of parliament, but without reaching a consensus on how to amend the constitution and election law.
On Thursday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng responded to a set of CNRP draft amendments by issuing his own, which did not include a provision for granting parliamentary immunity to members of the reformed National Election Committee. This could throw another spanner in the works, as immunity was a key condition for “consensus” NEC appointee Pung Chhiv Kek to accept the job.
The parties are due to hold further talks this week.
On the progress of the negotiations, Sochua said that disagreements were a healthy sign.
“Sometimes, I can tell you, the conversations at a technical level get heated. But the heated conversations actually show that the two sides are starting to work together,” she said.