The Ministry of Interior has filed a criminal complaint against at least 10 members of the fledgling Cambodia National Rescue Movement, including former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, though a court official would not confirm the nature of the charges beyond characterising them as being akin to “rebellion”.
Last week, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed that five former Cambodia National Rescue Party officials who were now part of the new “movement”, were facing court proceedings for violating the Supreme Court order banning 118 senior opposition members from participating in politics for five years. Though hasty amendments to Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties empowered the Supreme Court to suspend parties for five years, no such provision applies to individuals.
Following the near-universal condemnation of the CNRP’s forced dissolution in November for allegedly fomenting “revolution”, some former members of the party, under the leadership of ex-President Sam Rainsy, started the movement with the aim of calling for nonviolent demonstrations in Cambodia. However, the movement has yet to formally do so.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophanna yesterday confirmed at least 10 members of the movement were part of a court complaint, but, like Sopheak, he declined to confirm the actual charges involved.
“[The] CNRM was created to incite people and the armed forces to rebel against the government, which is the legal authority. This action is not different from a rebellion, and it is an act of opposing national security,” Sophanna said in a message.
Of the 10, Rainsy, his wife and former CNRP lawmaker Tioulong Saumura, fellow lawmaker Tok Vanchan and US-based CNRP activist Ry Kea are listed on a January document announcing the formation of the movement.
Former CNRP lawmakers Ho Vann and Nuth Rumdol are also listed as part of the new complaint, as is land rights activist Sia Phearum and three others – apparent CNRP supporters Sok Ly, Oun Chhim and Sory Pon. Sophanna did not clarify who the last three accused people were.
Former CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua said the government’s targeting of the movement’s members was indicative of its fear of the CNRM’s impact on the ground.
She added that Cambodians would be undeterred by such cases and that the movement will find new ways to mobilise, such as its call over the weekend to supporters to boycott bottled water sold by a firm owned by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter, Hun Mana.
“[This] is a scare tactic of the government but it will backfire as people will react to increasing crackdowns,” she said.
However, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan rejected any trepidation on the government’s part,
saying that while CNRM members may not have committed “rebellious acts”, they had still broken the law.
“They just talk from overseas, appeal to foreign governments to put pressure, ask those inside [Cambodia] to rebel against the legitimate government and ask the army to turn their weapons at the government—these are all illegal,” he said.
Sia Phearum could not be reached yesterday but spoke to Radio Free Asia last night, saying he rejected the accusations that the movement was illegal.
“In fact, the movement is to demand democracy in Cambodia. There are no activities that violate national or international law,” he said
Political commentator Lao Mong Hay said that while it would have been prudent for the ruling party to simply ignore the CNRM, any opposition-related activity was like “food in the CPP’s stomach that could not be digested”.
Additionally, it illustrated that there remained strong anti-government sentiment that the opposition, irrespective of its form, was able to tap into, he added. “It [the government] needs to quell or suppress any sort of agent [that] could stir up this kind of sentiment, and it is yet another case of the ruling party using the law to destroy their opponents,” he said.