More than 560 policemen have been deployed to protect detained opposition leader Kem Sokha – a move defended as necessary to deter “social chaos” but denounced by critics as painting Cambodia as unsafe.
Phnom Penh’s police chief Lieutenant General Sar Thet wrote in an internal document obtained by The Post on Tuesday that 566 municipal policemen would be sent to ensure the safety and supervision of Kem Sokha and “to prevent opposition leaders, civil society groups and organisations from trying to gather public forces at the residence of Kem Sokha, which would harm the public order in Phnom Penh”.
The document continued that the force must “prevent all tricks and action plans concerning terrorism, crime and causing social chaos”, and “control all activities of civil society organisation, unions, foreigners, former CNRP leaders and the 118 individuals involved in the case who were banned from politics”.
Kem Sokha, the former leader of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), is bailed under the supervision of Phnom Penh Municipal Court and confined to a one-block radius around his home in the capital’s Tuol Kork district.
The government critic was arrested for treason last September and charged with conspiring with foreign powers based on Article 443 of the Criminal Code. Sokha spent a year in Tbong Khmum province’s Trapaing Phlong prison before he was released on bail on September 10.
The same day, Prime Minister Hun Sen was reported as having said that Sokha’s bail was granted due to his health and that the former CNRP president had requested security while in the detention centre and outside of it.
The document said Kem Sokha had requested protection from the National Police. The court and top government officials insist that he is not under house arrest.
Even so, the police chief’s circular specifically mentioned keeping a close watch on Kem Sokha’s home.
It said police forces in the area must “monitor and stop all actions before they cause riots, protests or other demonstrations” and “arrange CCTVs around the targets to monitor all activities of the convicted”.
National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Chhay Kim Khoeun defended the sizeable deployment and stressed that it was not just about Sokha’s safety.
“It is safeguarding the targets in order to protect everyone. This is always done with a clear objective – to ensure safety. This is the forces’ main focus and deploying these forces is based on the actual situation called for,” Kim Khoeun said.
‘Difficult to explain’
Yet Kim Khoeun was quick to point out the deployment of the Phnom Penh Police, rather than the National Police.
“This is the plan of the Phnom Penh Municipal police. I also find it difficult to explain, but it is a security matter for the police forces, and for any comments, it’s up to them, it’s their view. And we have nothing to explain,” he said.
Soeng Sen Karuna, a senior official of rights group Adhoc, said such a deployment would affect the image and reputation of Cambodia and show that the Kingdom is rolling back the democratic principles that affect the people’s freedom.
“We do not see any group that is likely to come out to protest . . . the kind that the government is concerned about by using such a huge force,” he said.
Karuna said deploying such a large force on the streets of Phnom Penh would make “the public worry and think that Cambodia still does not have full peace and security”.