The European Commission (EC) has reiterated the European Union’s (EU) demand for the immediate release of opposition leader Kem Sokha and called on Cambodia to take the necessary measures to ensure that the court-dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) be swiftly reversed.
Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said this on behalf of the European Commission in response to a question posed to her by the European Parliament and seen by The Post on Wednesday.
At the conclusion of the February 26 meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), it released a statement warning the Cambodian government that it would consider “specific targeted measures” if the political situation in the Kingdom did not improve.
“The timetable for the possible adoption of any targeted measures will depend on the outcome of the discussions in the Council,” the text of her response to the European Parliament reads.
Kem Sokha was arrested in September on charges of treason based on a speech he gave in Australia several years ago, where he told supporters he had received US assistance in planning his political career.
The government claimed the video as evidence that the CNRP was a front for a foreign-backed revolution.
Mogherini told the European Parliament that there have been a number of court hearings in relation to Kem Sokha’s bail applications, and members of the EU delegation and other diplomatic representatives have not been allowed to enter the court to witness the trial.
“The continued detention of Kem Sokha has been raised repeatedly by the EU High Representative, the European External Action Service and the EU delegate in Phnom Penh,” she said.
The EU is Cambodia’s biggest export market, and the FAC notes that Cambodia has been granted preferential access to the EU market under the “Everything But Arms” scheme.
However, a requirement for being granted such access is a country’s respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The EU considers this requirement the underpinning of the bloc’s trade policy.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said on Wednesday that the government implements its laws in a manner to ensure peace, political stability and public order in the Kingdom.
“We work based on the principle of law enforcement. There may be a political agenda behind these demands [to release Sokha]. As for the government, we will continue to work with the EU and explain why we took legal measures against the opposition, which was not a violation of human rights,” he said.
Malin also said the EU’s demands to meet Sokha went against the Kingdom’s legal procedures, which only made such allowances for lawyers and family members.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said in a Facebook post that the demands to release Sokha and reinstate the CNRP were part of a foreign campaign to install a puppet government.
Speaking to The Post, Siphan said: “Cambodia is an independent and sovereign nation. We will not follow the orders of others and we cannot cut our head to fix a hat [for a foreigner].”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said reversing the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the CNRP was impossible.
“Legal procedures have already been instituted in order to ensure democracy and a state of law and order,” Eysan said.
Political analyst Meas Ny said the international community has measures it can take if the government is seen as violating human rights. But he doubted it would be enough for the government to change course.
“I think the government has no choice but to refuse to release Kem Sokha and will not reverse the ban on the opposition party, even if there was [international] pressure to do so.”