The Council of Ministers has ordered Interior Minister Sar Kheng to investigate whether the opposition forged thumbprints featured on a mass petition submitted to the King on Monday.
The directive dated May 31 and signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Norodom Sihamoni and cabinet minister Su Phirin, tasks Kheng, also a deputy prime minister, with “examining” the petition, probing people “directly” and using “other possible means” to establish the thumbprints’ veracity.
This is in order to “avoid the use of thumb prints to trick both the people and the King”, the letter, released yesterday, states.
Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak yesterday said the investigation could lead to yet another potential charge against the Cambodia National Rescue Party, whose acting president, Kem Sokha, is holed-up at the opposition’s headquarters to avoid arrest.
“If it’s found they repeated fake thumbprints, it’s a severe moral offence firstly, because first it cheats the King, and second, according to the law, they might be charged with faking the document and punished with a criminal offence,” Sopheak said.
The petition, which contains more than 170,000 thumbprints, urges King Norodom Sihamoni to intervene in what’s widely considered a political crackdown by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The CNRP – which is organising a second petition – accuses the CPP of having violated the constitution by using its control of the judiciary to manufacture a slew of questionable cases against its members, members of civil society and an election official.
The cases mainly stem from an alleged affair by Sokha, who has been provisionally charged with ignoring a court summons related to the scandal. CPP lawmakers on Monday voted to allow police to ignore his immunity.
CNRP supporters began collecting signatures for their first petition last month. Some of them were briefly detained by authorities.
A video purportedly showing CNRP supporters encouraging people to thumbprint on behalf of relatives emerged on a pro-government news site soon after the petition was delivered to the palace on Monday.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday denied the thumbprints were phony. He then reiterated a challenge for the government to invite the signatories to Phnom Penh to validate the petition. In a statement yesterday, the CNRP appealed to those who backed the appeal to be ready to come to the capital.
“If you want to know if it’s true or not, let 170,000 people show up at Freedom Park,” Sovann said.
According to Article 626 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, forgery – which carries a maximum three-year term – must be intentional and designed to “provide evidence of a right” or be an act carrying legal consequences.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said though forging a thumbprint was illegal, he had never heard of a forgery charge being applied to a petition.
“In short, it is a crime if you forge a thumbprint on behalf of others for public letters and private letters . . . but for a petition, I have never seen that,” the lawyer said.
The CNRP say they will respond with mass protests if police seize their acting president, who took refuge at party headquarters last week after officers attempted to take him into custody.
Sopheak, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said police were presently holding off on arresting Sokha to avoid potential clashes with opposition supporters.
“The important thing is that the ministry protects the security of the country . . . he can be arrested whenever,” he said.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton