Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Sunday revealed the story behind the transfer of former opposition party leader Kem Sokha from Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province to his house in the capital.
Speaking at the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) headquarters in Prey Veng province, Kheng said the government is simply providing security at Sokha’s own request, and that he is not under house arrest as it is not permitted by law.
“We [decided to] bring Kem Sokha to his house. There is no article in our criminal law that allows for house arrest, not at all. The law only mentions ‘detention in a particular territory’. It’s a loophole so we sought a solution."
“I said we have to draft a letter for [secretary of state] Pao Ham Phan to bring to [Sokha], to negotiate with Kem Sokha [about security conditions]. The discussion lasted from 3pm until 6pm, ensuring Kem Sokha would arrive in Phnom Penh safely by 5am,” Kheng said live on his Facebook page.
Kheng said the letter was prepared to avoid any accusation that Sokha was put under house arrest.
“It’s not easy to provide security. If we deploy our forces at his house, it is impossible because house arrest is not stipulated in the law. If we deploy the forces there, it is against the law. So we [thought about] circling the roads around his house . . . but then, the circle would still be too wide.
“So we found a way out. We prepared the letter in advance ‘to guarantee security’ [with Sokha’s consent]. The government is responsible for providing security. The government has no reason to do harm or kill Kem Sokha,” he said, adding: “So he cannot accuse us because he himself was the one who requested protection.”
Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Kheng said Sokha’s treason trial would still proceed according to the law.
“Kem Sokha’s case would continue in accordance with court procedures. If we don’t follow court procedures, the government would be accused of wrongdoing, of levelling wrong accusations against him.We must be aware of that."
“There will be an end to the case eventually,” he said.
Kheng said Patrick Murphy, the new US Ambassador who is set to replace William Heidt, also raised the issue in a meeting with him.
“He said ‘sentence [Sokha] however [the court] likes, but don’t implicate America’. I told him it was Kem Sokha, not us, who implicates the US. Then [Murphy] was lost for words,” Kheng said.
The interior minister went on to say that there are internal rifts within the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in particular between Sokha and former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, who lives in France to avoid numerous court cases in the Kingdom.
He said Rainsy wanted Sokha to be in jail so he could take the helm again. Kheng said Sokha also did not want Rainsy to return to the CNRP. Kheng called Rainsy an “awful coward”.
“Sam Rainsy really is a complete coward. I don’t mean to [verbally] attack individuals, but we have seen that he’s an awful coward. He says something and is not responsible for it. He does something and is not responsible for it.
“I mean he was keen to attack others, defame others, but when he was sued, he just fled. He’s such a coward. Then he started shouting from outside, insulting from outside,” Kheng said.
In response, Rainsy told The Post on Sunday that the claim of a rift within CNRP was nothing but a CPP fabrication.
“This is a pure fabrication. [Turning one against another] is what the CPP wants. Although Kem Sokha is being held hostage by Hun Sen, we will still fight together against the CPP because we know that only through solidarity can we ensure victory,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Kheng’s statement is a reflection of the court’s lack of independence. He cited the 2014 speech of former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Surya Subedi, in which he said the court was used again and again as a political tool by the government.
Mong Hay said Kem Sokha should be released on bail as was the case of the Khmer National United Party leader Nhek Bun Chhay, who has been freed in a drug case. “Nhek Bun Chhay has received complete freedom, so Sokha should also receive bail,” he said.
Citing former Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, he said that although Sokha is not under house arrest as stated by the interior minister, his detention under heavy security in the current circumstances should only be made after a guilty verdict has been delivered.
Separately, Sokha’s defence lawyer Pheng Heng said a scheduled hearing on ‘extension of detention’ for Sokha at the Appeal Court would not take place as the complaint has been withdrawn after Sokha was granted bail last Monday.