Members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party have started applying for asylum in other countries amid a tightening crackdown on the party at home, according to a senior party official who is himself seeking asylum.
Morn Phalla – head of CNRP’s Phnom Penh Municipal Executive Committee, who is currently in another country that he asked not be identified due to security concerns – said in a message that he had sought the UN’s assistance in obtaining asylum. “I already applied” for asylum, said Phalla, who has been subject to an arrest warrant since August relating to an unruly election rally.
He maintained that other CNRP activists had done the same, saying he had left because of threats and intimidation aimed at party leaders, and because of the arrest of party President Kem Sokha on widely condemned charges of “treason”. He said the situation was “worse” than in 1997, when Cambodian People’s Party troops defeated their Funcinpec counterparts in bloody fighting.
“If the [political] situation still doesn’t calm down, we cannot return home,” he said.
One of the CNRP lawmakers still in Cambodia, Ou Chanrath, said yesterday that only “17 or 18” of the 55 CNRP lawmakers were still in the country. “We know that . . . there is surveillance of lawmakers. It is a form of threat,” he said.
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua, who fled the country after receiving warnings of her imminent arrest, said no lawmakers had sought asylum.
According to a Facebook post by fellow Deputy President Eng Chhay Eang, the most recent lawmaker to leave the country was Chea Poch, who was held for questioning at the airport for an hour on Friday, but ultimately allowed to fly out.
Analyst Meas Nee said that if politicians were seeking asylum, then the “international community will know” there is a political crisis in Cambodia.
Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski