A prominent ruling party activist has alluded to violent attacks against CNRP acting president Kem Sokha if anti-Hun Sen protesters picket the premier’s upcoming US visit, in a sponsored Facebook post circulated a week after the prime minister delivered his own veiled threats of retaliation should a demonstration occur.
Prefacing his remarks with “according to observers”, Cambodian People’s Party social media activist and soldier Khan Chan Sophal wrote that the planned protests in the US would make the Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president “not dare to live in Cambodia anymore”.
In a post “liked” 281 times as of last night, Sophal said Sokha was afraid that CPP supporters would “burn [his] house”, and “pull him out of a car like the two CNRP lawmakers last time”, a reference to the brutal bashing of opposition parliamentarians by men from a pro-CPP rally on October 26. The CNRP acting president’s house was also surrounded by protesters and pelted with stones that day.
“Come that day [the day of the protest], Kem Sokha will buy a ticket to fly abroad before that happens. I think that the National Assembly should have a meeting and call Kem Sokha to join the meeting … so then where will he go?” wrote Sophal, whose page has 309,000 likes.
The message ends with Khmer script indicating laughter.
Contacted yesterday, Sophal insisted the remarks were not a threat but a well-intentioned warning from an observer about the possibility of violence, the likelihood of which he said was “50-50”.
“We’re afraid of violence against the CNRP locally again, the same as the previous time, and I worry,” he said, adding he would not take part in any demonstrations and that he didn’t fear possible arrest over the remarks because they reflected a “real situation”.
Speaking yesterday, CNRP deputy director-general of public affairs and Sokha’s daughter Kem Monovithya labelled the remarks a “specific threat”, which the party would take to authorities this week.
“Considering the violence in October where justice is still yet [to be] found, we need to take seriously CPP warnings,” Monovithya said.
Tension has been building ahead of next week’s US-ASEAN summit at Sunnylands ranch in California, where on February 15, the Cambodia American Alliance is planning “a rally against the tyrant Hun Sen”.
Late last month, the premier warned that any demonstrations in California would result in retaliatory ruling party rallies against opposition leaders back in Cambodia.
Similar warnings by Hun Sen preceded the mass rally and attack on October 26.
After the most recent threat, the opposition was quick to distance itself from, and warn against, any planned protests in the US.
Via email, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is in self-exile to avoid prison on charges widely thought politically motivated, said the party didn’t want to give anybody pretext to “increase the level of political violence and tension in order to derail the election process”.
But Cambodia-America Alliance president Vibol Touch said the group wasn’t associated with the CNRP and the rally would go ahead as planned.
“We are American citizens and we are concerned about what is going on in the Kingdom, Hun Sen is a threat to democracy, a threat to his own people and a threat to security in the ASEAN region.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that US President Barack Obama should hold Hun Sen accountable for any attacks on Kem Sokha and Cambodian opposition supporters.