The Interior Ministry will focus on unsubstantiated claims that the Cambodia National Rescue Party received funds from a Serbian organisation that promotes nonviolent protest movements, as part of an investigation into a “colour revolution” conspiracy to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen, an official said yesterday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, who first revealed the probe to local media on Tuesday, told The Post yesterday that National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun had been assigned to the case.
“In the past there has been information leaked through the news that the CNRP received money from foreigners or foreigner organisation[s], therefore after receiving this information, the General Administration Department requested the National Police Commission to investigate to see how much information is true,” Sopheak said by phone.
The claim the CNRP received $390,000 from the Belgrade-based Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (Canvas) in January 2015 is among several elements of a fantastical conspiracy plot posted anonymously by a Facebook user called “Kon Khmer” – or Khmer Child – and seized upon by government mouthpiece Fresh News, which has republished the posts in full.
The plot accuses the US Central Intelligence Agency and the NGO International Republican Institute of working with the family of CNRP President Kem Sokha to oust the premier.
It characterises Canvas as a hidden hand in anti-government demonstrations following the 2013 national election and claims the organisation conducted training with CNRP activists in Jakarta in August last year. “According to a network in Taiwan, CANVAS continues to implement colour revolutions to topple the governments of Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Cambodia,” one post reads.
According to its website, Canvas was founded in 2003 by Sloboban Djinovic and Srdja Popovic, members of the Serbian resistance movement Otpor, which successfully campaigned against strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Milosevic was ousted in 2000 following popular outrage at suspected election fraud and later died while on trial for crimes against humanity.
The pair have not responded to requests for comment, but its website states that Canvas promotes “nonviolence resistance to promote human rights and democracy”, has worked with pro-democracy activists from more than 50 countries, and provides free training to activists.
It also works with several prominent institutions including Harvard and Georgetown universities and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Via message yesterday, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party had not received any money from the organisation, but said he “did not know” if activists had attended Canvas training.
The opposition has denied involvement in fomenting a “colour revolution”, a term referring to nonviolent movements which have toppled regimes in the Soviet bloc and the Middle East.
The US Embassy, too, has rejected the claims, and on Tuesday accused the government of using the narrative to distract from what is widely seen as a crackdown on independent media outlets and NGOs ahead of next year’s pivotal national election.
In a statement yesterday, the CNRP said that Cambodia’s current political climate meant elections would unlikely be “free and fair”.
American freelance journalist Geoffrey Cain, one of several foreign nationals named as conspirators in the posts, has said he fears the “fake news operation” was being deployed as pretext for legal action against the CNRP, which faces the threat of recent controversial legislative amendments that allow the government to dissolve political parties.
Speaking yesterday, Sopheak, of the Interior Ministry, appeared to lend weight to these fears, referring to clauses from the amended Political Parties Law, which bans foreign donations to political parties. If the provision is breached, parties can face “a warning, be banned from participating in the election or the party can be dissolved”, he said.
“It depends on the information that we check, how much is true, and whether it is true as it has been covered in the news or not,” he added.