A meeting called for amid a flurry of arrests last week ended an hour after it started yesterday, with senior government and opposition party members agreeing to let the courts decide the fate of 14 opposition activists imprisoned on “insurrection” charges.
Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Cambodian National Rescue Party vice president Kem Sokha – who asked for the meeting – met at the National Assembly amid rising tensions over the conviction of 11 activists and arrest of three more over a Freedom Park protest that turned violent last year.
But no deal yesterday emerged from the talks, which also touched on the Vietnam border issue, the controversial NGO law and the election date.
Interior Ministry Secretary of State Sak Setha, among officials to take part, said the government would continue dialogue with the CNRP but not compromise the court’s independence.
“We will try to seek a way to share ideas about how to help, but as long as those ideas will not affect the [procedure] of court,” Sak Setha said.
Speaking for the CNRP, lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, who sat in on the talks, said although there had been no resolution, the opposition would lodge an appeal soon for the original 11 activists arrested and arrange defence lawyers for those taken in last week.
“We will use the law’s mechanisms to resolve this problem according to the procedure of law,” he said.
Chhay Eang said the leaders also discussed the seven lawmakers charged with insurrection over the protests, agreeing their immunity protected them from arrest even if they ignored a court summons.
Last week, in a speech that called for the arrest of more protesters from the July 2014 incident – arrests then carried out within 48 hours – Prime Minister Hun Sen also warned that lawmakers would do well to obey any new summonses, regardless of their current status under parliamentary immunity.
Currently, 14 CNRP activists are imprisoned over the protests in the capital’s Freedom Park, which saw some 39 guards injured. Eleven activists were sentenced on July 21 to between seven and 20 years. Three were detained and charged last week, while two more arrest warrants are outstanding.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy has repeatedly called the cases politically motivated, accusing the CPP of influencing the judiciary to pressure the opposition, particularly over its criticism of the government’s handling of the demarcation of the shared border with Vietnam.
Asked whether he trusted the courts to fairly adjudicate the cases, he stated, via email: “I will leave it to my colleagues in charge who know what they are doing, knowing that, in certain circumstances, everything cannot be immediately exposed to the public.”
Chhay Eang and Setha also confirmed both parties would again discuss the scheduling of the 2018 national election after Hun Sen last week reneged on a deal to hold the ballot five months early.