Prime Minister Hun Sen and members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces yesterday announced their intention to formally accuse former opposition leader Sam Rainsy of treason, after Rainsy urged soldiers and policemen not to shoot protesters.
Rainsy, a co-founder of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, fled the country in 2015 to avoid a politically tinged court conviction, and has remained abroad in France in self-imposed exile. Kem Sokha, who took over the party in 2017, is currently in prison awaiting trial on widely decried “treason” charges for saying he had received advice from the United States.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Rainsy asked members of the security services not to “obey orders from any dictators if they order you to shoot and kill innocent people”.
Attached to the post was a video of a discussion on Saturday in which Rainsy mentioned other armed forces that stood by as popular movements deposed dictators, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
“Hun Sen is not immortal and we do not protect Hun Sen . . . Once we eliminate the corrupt powerful and high-ranking generals that grabbed people’s land, logged the forest, trafficked the drugs . . . we will take the wealth of those generals to share with the soldiers,” Rainsy said.
In a speech yesterday, Hun Sen said the comments were “a declaration of war”.
“Generals, commanders and officials will file the complaint to the court for treason and incitement by persuading soldiers not to follow orders,” Hun Sen said, while speaking to garment workers in Phnom Penh.
“The father betrayed the country, and our King Father could not bear that, and the traitor finally died, and now his son became a traitor by calling the army to rebel,” the premier continued, referring to Rainsy’s father, Sam Sary, who was implicated in a plot to overthrow the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk in the 1950s.
Hun Sen has long claimed war would break out if the CNRP were ever to take power, and has accused it of attempting to stage a foreign-backed “colour revolution”, an accusation that saw the party dissolved last month to near-universal international condemnation.
The prime minister’s comments were met with agreement from military commanders, with strongly supportive statements flooding into government mouthpiece Fresh News. “We would like to firmly declare that we need to prepare the lawyer to file a complaint . . . We will sue Sam Rainsy over persuading the army of Cambodia to go against the government,” RCAF Commander Pol Saroeun said at a press conference yesterday.
Saroeun said the lawyers would file the suit “this evening or tomorrow”. “The workers and the people will not rebel, and they do not care about the politician’s issues. The Cambodian people love peace,” he added.
Rainsy said any lawsuit accusing him of treason would only make Hun Sen look “even more autocratic and stupid”.
“Those armed forces who sided with the people were considered heroes and not traitors in historical events,” he added.
Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University in Thailand, said that Rainsy’s comments have some constitutional authority.
“Under the 1993 constitution, soldiers are to obey a democratically elected Prime Minister,” he said in an email. “Clearly, if Hun Sen is not going to allow any credible parliamentary opposition to exist, then democracy in Cambodia becomes a farce.”
Chambers went on to say Hun Sen’s reaction “suggests desperation and insecurity”.
“With Kem Sokha in prison, Sam Rainsy represents the boldest critic of Hun Sen’s ironclad control over Cambodia. Charging Rainsy with treason is Hun Sen’s way of trying to show the military that Rainsy is not credible because he must be an enemy of the state,” he added.
Meanwhile, the attempts to discredit Rainsy continued with an anonymous document, widely disseminated by government officials and local media, mocking Rainsy over a recent interview with French media station TV5, misquoting Rainsy’s interviewers to cast him in a negative light.
Claiming Rainsy was “scared and could not answer some questions”, the piece said the interview caused Rainsy to “lose his reputation in the face of the international community”. The article says that the interviewers asked Rainsy about the lack of protests after the dissolution of the CNRP, saying “this means the Cambodian people are happy with the dissolution”. The interviewer actually asked, “Are they satisfied or do they resign themselves to the situation?”
The piece says the interviewer also accused Rainsy of jeopardising “national reconciliation” in a question about the Khmer Rouge, and that “Sam Rainsy was so scared about his baseless answers”.
However, in the actual video, the interviewer simply asked Rainsy what he thought of Hun Sen’s argument that talking more about the Khmer Rouge would “reopen wounds”. Rainsy answered the question, saying Hun Sen’s rhetoric is equivalent to “blackmail”.
Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski