A directive banning opposition leader Sam Rainsy from entering Cambodia and airlines from carrying him into the country contravene the Constitution, an opposition lawyer said yesterday, while Rainsy himself said the order means he is no longer in “self-imposed exile”.
The Council of Ministers issued a directive on October 12 banning airlines from selling tickets to Rainsy, with a warning that planes would be turned around – with all passengers on board – if they allowed him to board. It also banned Rainsy himself from entering the country via other means.
The directive was made to the Interior Ministry’s general department of immigration, which on Tuesday issued its own directive ordering officials to be on the lookout for any Rainsy attempts to enter.
“Officials have to be aware and check at the . . . terminals or other border checkpoints to report if Sam Rainsy comes through,” says the letter, which was obtained yesterday. “Then, take actions according to the legal procedures to prevent him entering Cambodia.”
“The actions should be highly effective.”
Meng Sopheary, a lawyer for the CNRP, said the directives were plainly illegal.
“This is against the Constitution because this is Cambodia, and Cambodia is a country for all Cambodians. No one has an exclusive right on the country,” Sopheary said. “Article 33 of our Constitution states that citizens should not be deprived of their rights [as citizens], or exiled.”
“For this case, this is likely to exile him.”
Article 33 reads: “Cambodian citizens shall not be deprived of their nationality, exiled or arrested and deported to any foreign country unless there is a mutual agreement.”
Rainsy, who has made no attempt to return since an arrest warrant was issued for him a year ago over an old defamation case, said in an email he could now no longer be described as in “self-imposed exile”.
“In contradiction with the Constitution, the Hun Sen government has now officially and indefinitely exiled me. Therefore, I am no longer the ‘Cambodian opposition leader in self-imposed exile’, as foreign journalists used to write about me,” Rainsy said.
“But I remain determined to come back to Cambodia – in one way or another – one year, one month or one week before the next elections. You understand I cannot reveal the details of my plan because this would jeopardize its implementation.”
He also told Radio Free Asia on Friday that he might attempt to enter “by sea or by land” next year.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on the orders, saying he had not seen them. Keo Vannthan, deputy director-general of the general department of immigration, said the first directive arrived at his department on Tuesday and that it was simply enforcing it.
“Here we are, waiting to implement the orders. Whatever the Council Minister orders, we will implement according to the legal procedures,” Vannthan said. “If you ask me ‘Why does the letter ban [Rainsy’s return]?’ that’s not my responsibility to answer.”
Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns