The National Assembly yesterday voted to allow the municipal court to continue its treason case against jailed opposition CNRP leader Kem Sokha, while Prime Minister Hun Sen mused that the party could be dissolved if its continues to protect a “traitor”.
Mr Sokha was last week charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with treason for conspiring with a foreign power. The offence is punishable by 15 to 30 years in jail.
The case against Mr Sokha is based on video footage published by the Australia-based news outlet CBN, in which he speaks of being tutored by the US to lead regime change in Cambodia.
The video was deemed a “red-handed” crime, dispelling Mr Sokha’s parliamentary immunity and allowing police to arrest him.
The National Assembly yesterday held a special session to debate whether to allow the court to continue its case against Mr Sokha, which the opposition CNRP boycotted, choosing to attempt a visit to their jailed leader in Tboung Khmum province’s Trapaing Phlong prison instead.
The ruling CPP voted to allow the court to continue its case, while CNRP lawmakers were in Tboung Khmum being blocked by authorities from visiting Mr Sokha.
CNRP vice president Mu Sochua said a request to visit Mr Sokha was denied, and hundreds of armed forces then blocked her and 17 other opposition lawmakers from getting into the prison.
“We are disappointed that our formal request to visit him was denied, and that barricades were set up to block us from entering,” she said. “We are lawmakers of the National Assembly and have an obligation to monitor the situation of Mr Sokha.”
Ms Sochua said the assembly meeting was unconstitutional and that it was a sham for the ruling CPP to give authorities the government’s blessing to continue its “red-handed” case against Mr Sokha, ensuring his parliamentary immunity remains dismissed.
“The meeting at the National Assembly violated the constitution and internal rules of parliament,” she said.
Ms Sochua added that Mr Sokha should be released and the court should drop its charge to allow for a free and fair national election next year.
“We can’t join an election that isn’t free and fair,” Ms Sochua said.
Giving a speech to graduates on Koh Pich, Mr Hun Sen meanwhile accused the entire CNRP party of treason by continuing to protect a “traitor”.
“Traitors can’t be tolerated,” Mr Hun Sen said. “If the political party continues to protect this traitor, does it mean that this one party is also treasonous, and there is no need for it to be kept in Cambodia’s democracy?”
“If treason was conspired by the whole party, that party could be dissolved under the law on political parties,” he added.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said after the assembly session that all laws and internal parliament rules had been followed.
“The arrest was made in compliance with the constitution and laws,” he said.
Mr Yeap said authorities can arrest lawmakers accused of red-handed crimes and then make a report to the National Assembly for approval of actions taken.
The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia also weighed in yesterday, issuing a statement alongside 12 others NGOs to raise concern over the persecution of party presidents in the lead up to the election.
Besides Mr Sokha, the former party presidents of the Khmer Power Party and the Khmer National United Party are also behind bars on an incitement conviction and drug production charge.
“Such actions have the potential to undermine public perception on the quality of political competition, negatively impacting the participation of political parties and eligible voters in the 2017 registration process and the National Assembly election preparation in 2018,” the statement said.
“Authorities should restore a regular and peaceful political environment and allow for the participation of political party leaders, independent media and international non-government organisations during the registration period, and also promote freedom of expression and right to access to information for free and fair elections in 2018.”