City Hall yesterday gave the green light for a Friday rally outside CNRP headquarters set to coincide with the trial of Kem Sokha, while a second government official in as many days seemingly offered assurances that no attempt will be made to arrest the acting opposition leader.
The CNRP has asked party supporters and officials to congregate at its office on National Road 2 to act as “observers” as acting party president Kem Sokha is tried in absentia for refusing to appear for multiple court summonses.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said the party had the “political right” to conduct the rally, as long as they managed traffic and participants refrained from insulting King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“If there is an insult, we would enforce our administrative measure and our legal measure,” he warned, adding that the party was responsible for any untoward behaviour.
Speaking to local media yesterday evening, Chanyada said that in addition to those conditions, the party had been warned not to link the rally to Sokha’s trial.
However, Morn Phalla, president of the party’s executive committee, said this condition was not conveyed to the CNRP during their meeting with city officials, and the party was only asked to ensure the smooth flow of traffic and refrain from using insults.
“We have invited them to come here and only listen to developments on the trial,” Phalla said, adding that 1,000 supporters were expected on Friday.
Party spokesman Yim Sovann added that there was no question of insulting anyone, given that the agenda for the rally was clear – to observe the criminal trial on Friday.
Ou Virak, founder of think tank Future Forum, said one of the reasons for the rally’s approval could be to avoid a repeat of Monday, when authorities barricaded National Road 2 to thwart CNRP lawmakers’ attempts to deliver petitions to embassies of signatories of the Peace Paris Agreement.
“But the main point is that Friday will not be eventful,” he said. “This is a high-profile case, and if I was the government, I would want to drag it out and keep the opposition on the back foot.”
National Police spokesman Kith Chantharith on Tuesday dismissed the possibility of a Sokha arrest, saying it would “not happen” as he would legally be allowed to mount an appeal of any verdict.
Chantharith’s assessment was backed up yesterday by Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap, who in a Facebook post cited articles 353 and 382 of the Criminal Procedures Code.
Those codes specify that the court does not have to issue an arrest warrant for sentences of less than a year and that a defendant is guaranteed one month to appeal the verdict, respectively.
Yesterday, New York-based Human Rights Watch asked the Cambodian government to drop the charges against Sokha, which it classified as a “pre-election campaign of persecution”.
“After his party’s poor showing in the last national elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen is using every trick in the book to neutralize the opposition before the 2018 elections,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.
Following Monday’s delivery of CNRP petitions to international embassies, Interior Minister Sar Kheng appealed to the same embassies via an open letter, saying the opposition was “destroying and putting Cambodia’s democracy at danger”.
“CNRP lawmakers are using their immunity as a tool to protect themselves when they violate laws and the constitution,” he wrote, on behalf of the CPP’s parliamentary committee.
“Kem Sokha was summoned to court many times, but he did not show up. If he is not wrong, as he and supporters believe, he must take responsibility,” the letter reads.