On the heels of a string of prison sentences for opposition activists involved in anti-government protests in July of last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered authorities to arrest more demonstrators allegedly involved in the “insurrection”, singling out but not naming seven Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge yesterday in Kandal, the premier said that he had already instructed National Police chief Neth Savoeun and Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong to pursue and arrest more protesters accused of inciting an “insurrection” on July 15 last year during protests following the disputed 2013 general election.
“Do not use political issues to eliminate criminal problems,” Hun Sen said. “For the other seven [lawmakers]: I do not make threats, but when the court summonses you, please go. If you don’t go, be careful, for the [court] sentences in absentia, which means you give up the right to defend yourself.”
Hun Sen further called out CNRP president Sam Rainsy, his counterpart in the so-called culture of dialogue, the fragile detente between the two parties.
The premier accused Rainsy of keeping up public appearances by seeming amicable but using his opposition members to stir up trouble.
“The dialogue with [Sam Rainsy] has been good, but using [CNRP members] to insult and incite. What is that?” Hun Sen said.
“I cannot smile at you when you shake my hand and step on my toes.”
Acting CNRP spokesman Eng Chhay Eang brushed off Hun Sen’s rhetoric as par for the course, though he stressed that the premier must not meddle in the affairs of the Supreme Court.
“The court is an independent institution, so if he says things like this, the court loses its independence,” he said. “We have seen that, before, the court has always followed him.”
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator with local rights group Licadho, also said the court and authorities should not simply act based on Hun Sen’s orders, as it was law enforcers’ duty to find justice for victims.
“Authorities must do this work … [as] the prime minister will be criticised for interfering with the court,” he said.
Political analyst Chea Vannath said such hard-line tactics could possibly backfire for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
“I don’t see any benefit of the CPP of doing that, because the voters, they have their own thinking, they have their own opinions, so I think that it is a very risky game to give a hard time to the opposition,” she said. “People might look at that as a social injustice.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON