Despite a United Nations body declaring the detention of former opposition leader Kem Sokha as “politically motivated” and calling for his immediate release, and with the Worldwide Movement for Human Rights calling the government’s action “shameful”, yesterday Prime Minister Hun Sen defended the arrest as the “right thing to do”.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) said the detention of ex-CNRP President Sokha was “arbitrary’ and demanded his immediate release, according to a press release issued by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) on Wednesday.
The WGAD opinion, adopted on April 19, is a response to FIDH’s December complaint on the arrest and detention of Sokha, regarding it as “politically motivated” in the context of “what appears to be an escalating trend in Cambodia of suppression of criticism of the government” ahead of July’s general election.
The WGAD expressed “serious concern” about the health of Sokha, who suffers from severe pain from a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder, as well as high blood pressure and hyperglycemia.
The UN appealed to the government to ensure Sokha will receive “appropriate medical treatment” in accordance with international law.
Sokha is currently being detained at Trapang Phong prison in Tbong Khmum province near the Vietnamese border after he was arrested in early September last year for “treason”. Many observers have considered his arrest as politically motivated.
Additionally, Debbie Stothard, FIDH secretary-general, wrote in the statement that, “The eight-month pretrial detention of Kem Sokha is not only arbitrary but also shameful and inhumane. Kem Sokha did not commit any crime and is being punished exclusively for his unwavering fight for democracy. He must be immediately released, along with all other detained opposition members and supporters.”
Yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen defended his government for the criticism, maintaining that Sokha’s arrest was made in the pursuit of “peace” in the Kingdom.
“The price of peace is very high,” he said, while speaking to 28,500 workers from 26 factories in Bavet, Svay Rieng province.
“It is not for any single individual, but for everyone. The loss of peace means the loss of everything. Some people are speaking for democracy or human rights, but have they ever asked if you cared about democracy or human rights while you are dropping your bombs on my people’s head?” he asked, referring to the United States’ bombing campaign in Cambodia in the 1970s.
Sokha was arrested over remarks he made during a 2013 speech in Australia about receiving career advice and assistance about democratic change from the US.
“Each of you must control and take over by any means in order to prevent the destruction of peace in this country. For those who want to overthrow [the government], they will try to use all kinds of incitements,” Hun Sen continued.
“Each of you must keep working hard to contribute to peacekeeping, and this is easy and guaranteed only if you and your families vote for the Cambodian People’s Party. As I am still here, it is very hard for our peace to be destroyed. Those who oppose and keep attacking me do so because I block their nation-destroying actions, so I am not surprised when they curse me.
“The more they curse me, the more I think I am right. One of my principles is that the more they praise me, the more I am wrong, and when they curse me, the more right I am. This is a fact, so please curse me more; but if you don’t do it right, be aware of the lightening striking you,” the prime minister said.
Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath, meanwhile, welcomed the WGAD and FIDH statements, and claimed Sokha had done “nothing wrong”.
“I welcome the declaration of the United Nations because we see things the same way. We have seen that his arrest violates the law, procedures of detention and legal proceedings, because six months after his pretrial detention the court still has not found any evidence of wrongdoing, but yet they still detain him,” Chanrath said.
“According to the law, he should be released on bail if they continue to seek further evidence, at least the innocent should not be in custody.”
Responding to Hun Sen’s suggestion that when he is criticised it means he is right, Chanrath said “in our country, if we say something that affects [the government] we face arrest and being put in jail. If we just admire them they will never know they do the wrong thing.”
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin rejected the UN body’s statement, saying: “The royal government and the court have the legal basis to prove that [Sokha] committed the red-handed crime. Many see it as politically motivated only because it is close to the election. They just echo what opposition legal officers have said.”
However, ex-Deputy President Mu Sochua of the now-dissolved CNRP said Sokha should be released as he has not been found guilty of any crime.
“Until today, the courts have not yet completed its investigation on Kem Sokha. He must be treated as a free man, not guilty. This is a highly politically motivated case. The CNRP was also dissolved without any sound evidence. One hundred and eighteen politicians were stripped off their political rights,” Sochua said.
“I totally support the demand of FIDH. Free Kem Sokha immediately and pay him damages caused to him and his family. Cambodian courts are a political tool and serve no justice for the people.”