Amid a flurry of recent arrests related to the Kem Sokha sex scandal, opposition lawmakers in a letter yesterday asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to have the National Assembly convene a session so they could question Justice Minister Ang Vong Vanthana about the increasing politicisation of the judicial system.
The letter cites Article 96 of the constitution, which gives lawmakers the right to monitor and question the work of government officials, with CNRP chief whip Son Chhay saying their concerns went beyond the recent arrest of human rights workers and summonses for Sokha and two fellow parliamentarians.
“The government has changed the entire judicial system so that the whole court is now politicised and the government fully controls it through the minister,” he said.
He said a “dangerous situation” had been created with the Anti-Corruption Unit’s recent cases against members of parliament and alleged widespread phone tapping.
“The government has always said they are trying to strengthen the rule of law,” he added. “So if they are really serious about what they are saying, they should answer our questions and also face the nation.”
National Assembly spokesman Leng Penglong said his office had yet to receive the letter and would forward it to the prime minister once he did. Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap could not be reached for comment.
However, in a statement released earlier in the day, the Justice Ministry slammed the CNRP for questioning the court’s actions, which it claims have been independent of any outside influence.
“They interpret the law with a lack of knowledge about the law and the procedures of the prosecutor and court, including their wrong accusations of twisting the law,” the statement reads.
Meanwhile, at a meet-and-greet organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, Minister Prak Sokhon met with 29 representatives from the diplomatic community.
However, ministry spokesman Chum Sonry said the topic of Kem Sokha had not been broached, saying it was a simple stock-taking meeting following the minister’s first month on the job, with no other topics discussed.
“This meeting had not a single head of diplomatic missions raise concerns about the current political situation in Cambodia,” he said.
The US Embassy confirmed the presence of Ambassador William Heidt but refused to divulge the substance of the closed-door meeting. Attempts to reach other embassies to discuss the meeting were unsuccessful yesterday.
But, speaking to the Post earlier this week, a member of the diplomatic community said there was a sense the government was nervous, resulting in them seeking refuge in remedies they’ve used against adversaries in the past.
“I think decisive parameters have changed since, and what may have worked then will not necessarily work now anymore,” the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
While the government could succeed in paralysing the opposition party, the diplomat believed there was a “silent opposition” in the streets that would make itself heard loud and clear when the time came.
While yesterday’s meeting allegedly avoided the current political tumult, a joint statement issued following another meeting this week, between a visiting EU delegation and Cambodian officials, showed the topic had been broached.
“We raised our concerns about the independence of the judiciary and the fairness of law enforcement, and specifically about the recent arrests of civil society representatives, and we called for their release,” said Ugo Astuto, acting managing director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service.
In response, Huy Vannak, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said the law was taking its course and that the meeting was held in a “spirit of cooperation, there was no pressure”.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton and Vong Sokheng