Prayer won’t help you.
That was the message delivered yesterday by Prime Minister Hun Sen to the opposition, who on Sunday held a religious ceremony in Siem Reap to pray for their lawmakers’ parliamentary immunity to be respected, amid what’s widely seen as a politically motivated crackdown on the Cambodia National Rescue Party and government critics.
Speaking to graduating students at the Royal School of Administration in Phnom Penh, the premier said the CNRP’s theatrics were unnecessary and unable to save its members from arrest if authorities determined they had broken the law.
“I would like to say that it is not necessary to make offerings to the spirits,” Hun Sen said.
“If you don’t do anything illegal, you won’t be jailed.”
Instead, he suggested that CNRP acting president Kem Sokha should go to court and face questions related to an alleged affair.
Though he did not mention Sokha by name, Hun Sen implied the case could be finished quickly if the opposition leader submitted to questioning.
“This crime has a jail sentence from one month to six months … there would be no detainment. Some bodies do not understand about this, that’s why it becomes a problem. If [you] go to be questioned a little bit, they will let [you] come back; no one will arrest [you].”
Sokha has been holed up at CNRP headquarters since May 26 after police attempted to arrest him for ignoring multiple court summonses.
He faces allegations of procuring a prostitute and defamation stemming from a recorded private conversation, all related to an alleged affair. Four human rights workers, a CNRP official and an election official have all been imprisoned awaiting trial over the “sex scandal”, while two more opposition lawmakers are in jail over claims about the border with Vietnam.
Yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay pointed to condemnation by the United Nations and European Union to counter the government’s claim that it was acting lawfully.
Chhay also rebutted comments yesterday by Hun Sen, who threatened action against the party for “forgery” after an investigation found some irregularities in a mass petition they submitted to the King asking for his help to end the crisis. “What is important is that the government looks at the citizens’ proposal,” Chhay said.
In his speech, Hun Sen warned diplomats to stop accusing the government of manipulating the courts. “If we do not use the law, do we only use guns? If we use guns, there is disorder,” he said
The EU has been among the most vocal critics of what it’s deemed “judicial harassment”. On Sunday, the bloc’s ambassador to Cambodia, George Edgar, visited Sokha, while yesterday, French Ambassador Jean-Claude Poimboeuf met with the opposition leader.
In a statement via email, a spokesman for France said its ambassador received an update on the situation. Meanwhile, Edgar called for the resumption of talks between the parties.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton and Ananth Baliga