A fugitive government critic is seeking asylum abroad after claiming he rejected Prime Minister Hun Sen’s efforts to lure him to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), an allegation denied by party officials.
Political analyst Kim Sok has been wanted by authorities since failing to appear in court for questioning on September 14.
He told The Post from his secret hideout on Wednesday that he is looking for a country to shelter him so that he can continue to promote democracy and social justice. Sok said he had no faith in the Cambodian judicial system.
“I know Hun Sen will not forgive me. He’ll spend anything [to arrest me] because he has failed over and over for 12 years to get me to join him. I will try to seek freedom under these circumstances since there is plenty of democracy work ahead of me,” Sok said. “
Last year, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Sok to 18 months in prison for “intent to commit a felony and public defamation.” He was also ordered to pay Hun Sen compensation of about $200,000.
Yet, after serving his jail term, Sok continued to criticise the government and the public feud intensified. In a speech, Hun Sen instructed his lawyers to get the $200,000 from Sok, who claimed he did not have enough money to pay the compensation.
Sok now claims the court issued its latest warrant of arrest to please Hun Sen. He also said the prime minister will to use the judicial system to imprison him again rather than face him in court or in public.
“I will walk into prison by myself if Hun Sen would agree to two easy requests. First, as the leader of Cambodia, promise safety for my young daughter. Second, I challenge Mr Hun Sen to come face to face with me in a court trial as the plaintiff,” Sok said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan flatly rejected Sok’s claims. “He has no right to demand conditions from the plaintiff. Sok is the criminal. He can appeal in court. That would be the correct thing for him to do,” Eysan said.
But on Wednesday, Sok continued to express his mistrust in Cambodia’s judicial system, claiming the courts serve Hun Sen and help him maintain his grip on power.
“If the court was fair, I would win the trial. As a matter of fact, through party connections, Hun Sen uses his power to order the judge to steal the verdict for him.
“Hun Sen robs power and justice from the people, like me. Therefore, it’s not strange for a person who wins through robbery not to face the actual winner, because if the trial is fair, the winner of the case clearly would be me,” he claimed, adding that seeking asylum abroad is his only option.
“The main objective is to find freedom and continue my work. In this case, in order to be free from Hun Sen’s power, I am forced to seek asylum abroad,” he said.
Sok characterised his pro-democracy work as mostly educational. “Youth training on democracy and justice, conducting workshops, expressing opinions through public forums, social networking, forming a national democratic youth movement, or explaining myself through books.”
Eysan also rejected Sok’s claim that CPP leaders tried to get him to work for them.
“The CPP has a great number of human resources. Therefore, there is no need for any others. Not only Kim Sok, but also others who have different political views from us, will not be wanted. The CPP has been here a long time . . . decades. We don’t lack human resources to serve the country and the people,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Sok’s public criticism of the government was simply an attempt to leave Cambodia.
“The goal of his attempt to defame [Prime Minister Hun Sen] is to obtain political asylum only. He wants to present a negative image of the government, which helps him obtain asylum. This is his goal, not because of his work or his love for people,” Siphan said.
Not everyone agrees. Human Rights Watch’s Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson told The Post on Wednesday that Hun Sen will try to jail Sok again on more bogus charges because he aims to punish anyone who defies him.
“This is all about Hun Sen wanting people to be so afraid that they dare not open their mouths to question anything he says. It’s the behaviour of a real right abusing dictator,” Robertson said.
He continued: “Diplomats and UN officials in Phnom Penh and overseas should demand Hun Sen drop the charges and learn the art of listening to rather than always imprisoning his critics.”