UPDATE (3:10pm): Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha is in a “safe place”, according to an opposition official, who said the party had reached out to the international community to condemn an attempt by police this morning to arrest the opposition leader.
Speaking this afternoon, CNRP parliamentarian Eng Chhay Eang would not divulge the whereabouts of Sokha, only saying he was in a “safe place”.
The opposition leader is being sought by police for missing a summons to appear at Phnom Penh Municipal Court this morning.
Just after midday, armed police arrived at the CNRP’s headquarters on National Road 2 in a bid to find the acting president.
Prior to this, at about 11:30am, another contingent of officers stopped Sokha’s car on Norodom Boulevard near Boeung Keng Kang market, however the lawmaker was not inside, according to Sokha’s chief of cabinet, Muth Chanta.
Chhay Eang said the party had contacted officials at the French Embassy to denounce the actions by authorities, citing Sokha’s parliamentary immunity, which is supposed to protect him from arrest.
“He has immunity, so they cannot arrest him unless they have a warrant for his arrest, and they have to strip his immunity first,” Chhay Eang said.
Moments before news of the attempted arrest broke, Sokha’s lawyer Sam Sokong said he had been delivering a letter to a prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court explaining his client’s absence, adding that the prosecutor could not issue a warrant given his client’s immunity.
“I think the prosecutor will not issue any letter or warrant,” Sokong said.
“According to the law, the prosecutor has no power or right to issue the arrest warrant [for Sokha], because my client has the privilege of parliamentary immunity.”
Sokha faces accusations of procuring a prostitute, tied to a sex scandal. It is his second summons for the case, meaning police can now forcibly compel him to attend the hearing, according to Cambodian law.
He also faces a separate but related defamation suit. The legal action is widely considered politically motivated.
Chhay said the group who arrived at CNRP headquarters – where Sokha was scheduled to meet with party members at 3pm – left after being asked for a warrant.
“The group of police wanted to get into our headquarters, but we demanded they have a warrant for his arrest,” he said.
Earlier this morning, the CNRP released a statement confirming Sokha’s car had been stopped by police.
“The National Rescue Party informs the public, international and national media and diplomats that at 11:30am on Thursday, May 26, the car of HE Kem Sokha, acting president of the National Rescue Party, was stopped by armed forces, wielding guns, on Norodom Boulevard,” it reads.
According to local media outlet Fresh News, National Police chief Neth Savoeun said officers had not arrested the CNRP politician.
Sokha is the most senior opposition party leader in Cambodia.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy is in self-imposed exile in France after a warrant was issued for his arrest last year.