Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday for the first time publicly addressed the fate of four Adhoc officials and a National Election Committee member arrested last week in relation to the Kem Sokha mistress scandal, floating a possible resolution – a royal pardon. But the suggestion came with a caveat.
Speaking to graduating students from Vanda Institute on Koh Pich, Hun Sen said that while he could ask the King to issue a pardon, it would not be considered if civil society groups kept pushing him while legal proceedings were ongoing. In fact, they would only succeed in making life more difficult for the jailed quintet.
“I do not have the right to interfere with the court’s process,” he said. “But after the verdict becomes final, it is in the hands of the prime minister, who is allowed to make a request to the King for amnesty or pardon.
“Don’t make demands for individuals who have made mistakes,” he continued. “But if you are gentle, I will think about it. If you are arrogant, I will think about that, too.”
The premier’s hint at an amnesty for the quintet came a day after eight people who had attempted to protest for their release were hauled off to jails around Phnom Penh and questioned before being released.
The crackdown on the seemingly benign gathering dubbed “Black Monday” was a necessity, Hun Sen told the students, explaining that he had directed Interior Minister Sar Kheng to suppress any allegedly illegal activities irrespective of the colour associated with the protest.
“Some may call it orange, some red and others black, but for me, if any colour is associated with illegal activities, we will arrest them and the courts will uphold the law,” he said.
Monday’s civil society protest involved NGOs and rights groups asking supporters to dress in black and march to Prey Sar prison, where the four Adhoc staffers – Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda and Lem Mony – are being held.
Former Adhoc official and current NEC deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya is being held at the capital’s PJ prison.
The protest resulted in the hours-long detainment and questioning of four rights group staffers, including two foreign NGO consultants, and a quartet of land rights activists.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the government’s concern about a potential colour revolution was a result of the opposition’s failed “lotus revolution”, referring to protests that followed the 2013 elections.
“So we identified this as an urban rebellion in the city and we had to handle it,” he said, referring to Monday’s protest.
Siphan said that the government had been made aware of the Black Monday campaign after a dinner last week hosted by the US Embassy and attended by family members of the jailed Adhoc officials, going on to identify political commentator Ou Virak, an attendee at the dinner, as one of its ringleaders.
Virak said it was “ridiculous” to point to a reception at the US Embassy where other ambassadors were in attendance as a place where brainstorming for the protest might have occurred. “This is paranoia,” he added. “What am I going to say to that?”
Pheav Mey, Vanda’s wife and one of the attendees at that dinner yesterday said that the prime minister’s speech had given her hope her husband would be released. “I do not know about the legal procedures, but in the past, if the prime minister says something like that, we can have some hope,” she said.
She added that she dressed in black on Monday to only request Vanda’s release, adding that “if my husband is released, I will stop dressing in black”.
While government officials in the past have said only inmates who have served two-thirds of their sentence were eligible for pardons, lawyer and former head of the Cambodia Defenders Project Sok Sam Oeun said the constitution gave the King a blanket right to issue pardons, with no riders attached.
“The law does not clearly give any criteria, and we have also never seen the King give pardons himself – only after a recommendation is made to him,” he said.
Today, the CNRP acting president Kem Sokha is due to appear before court in relation to a defamation suit, but opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said he would hold to the party’s decision not to honour the summons, and face arrest if necessary.
“The position of our lawmakers was made clear on May 4, so there is nothing to change,” Chhay Eang said. “If the [court] arrests [Kem Sokha], it is a very serious violation of the law.”
On Monday, Anti-Corruption Unit president Om Yentieng said in a radio interview that Sokha would be committing a “real crime” if he failed to show today and could be subject to arrest.
Sokha was summonsed after social media celebrity Thy Sovantha sued him for defamation for disparaging her in leaked audio recording purportedly between him and alleged mistress Khom Chandarathy.
Sokha and fellow CNRP lawmakers Tok Vanchan and Pin Ratana have also been summonsed next week for questioning related to prostitution.