The Cambodia National Rescue Party is asking for hundreds of supporters and party officials to rally outside its headquarters on Friday, the morning of acting party president Kem Sokha’s trial for refusing to appear for previous summonses.
In a letter sent to City Hall on September 5, president of the party’s executive committee Morn Phalla informed City Governor Pa Socheatvong that supporters and party members, including parliamentarians and provincial officials, will congregate at the party’s office on National Road 2.
The two sides are scheduled to discuss the proposed gathering today, with Phnom Penh Deputy Dovernor Khoung Sreng saying authorities would not block the rally, though there could be restrictions on the number of supporters permitted.
“Without the [number of participants], it is difficult for Phnom Penh Municipal Hall to decide to allow the CNRP to gather,” Sreng said.
“Also, what is the CNRP’s intention [for the rally]? They have not said that clearly.”
With a guilty verdict seemingly foreordained, rumours have swirled of a possible imminent arrest of the senior opposition leader, though party officials yesterday said the gathering was being held to “observe” the situation and not necessarily to thwart that possibility.
“The rally is being held to be careful, because on that day is the trial of Mr Kem Sokha,” said CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann. “We’re concerned that he would get arrested, therefore [they] come to observe.”
“We don’t know how many people will join the gathering because it is up to the supporters,” he added. “We will only observe [the court proceedings], and have requested they do not abuse the law or constitution.”
Reached last night, National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith flatly denied an arrest was in the works.
Chantharith said he had spoken to “law experts” who had told him that a sentence in absentia left room for an appeal process and didn’t necessitate an immediate arrest.
“He [Kem Sokha] will not be arrested, because he has the opportunity to file an appeal,” he said. “People should not worry that he will be arrested and this will not happen.”
He added, however, that protesters would still be expected to mind their behaviour.
“Protecting him is their right, but the law is law, and [authorities] can implement the law.”
The CNRP’s request to rally follows one sent last week that sought permission for its lawmakers to submit petitions to a number of embassies on Monday. The city’s subsequent rejection of the request and blocking of National Road 2 resulted in major traffic jams on Monivong and Norodom Boulevards.
However, Sreng refused to comment on what action the authorities might take if CNRP failed to control the potential crowds on Friday, saying that, too, was up for discussion at today’s meeting.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment on what measures might be taken for Friday’s rally.
Party whip Son Chhay said the government would be “scared” to repeat a blockade of National Road 2, because it generated a lot of anger among the capital’s residents – many of whom are opposition supporters.
Yesterday, Sokha’s legal team filed a complaint with the Supreme Court challenging the municipal court’s rejected by the Appeal Court on Monday. They also went back to the Appeal Court, asking for a postponement of Friday’s trial.
Separately, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement expressing concern at what it termed an “atmosphere of intimidation” against the opposition, one compounded by military officials using rhetoric to defend the ruling party against the opposition.
It also called cases against Sokha, opposition politicians and activists as having “procedural flaws” and raised questions about the “fairness” of the proceedings.
Reacting to the release, government spokesman Phay Siphan said the UN had always been biased when putting out such statements and had never admonished the CNRP when they “were breaking the law” after the 2013 elections.
“The UN should respect the choice of Cambodia to enforce the rule of law, and can help us maintain peace and rule of law,” he said. “But the UN shows different approaches to [enforcing] the rule of law.”