PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Opposition senator Hong Sok Hour was charged yesterday with forging public documents and inciting unrest after he posted a picture of a 1979 border treaty with Vietnam on Facebook.
Accusing Mr. Sok Hour of treason, Prime Minister Hun Sen demanded his arrest in on Thursday. The senator faces up to 17 years in jail.
“Posting a fake treaty is a flagrant crime, and the perpetrator should be arrested as soon as possible,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
Early Saturday morning, Mr. Sok Hour was seized and taken to the municipal court, in what his lawyers call a violation of his parliamentary immunity as a senator. His immunity can only be stripped with a two-thirds majority vote in parliament.
He is accused of posting a fake treaty relating to the border demarcation issue with Vietnam.
Mr. Sok Hour posted a photo of a 1979 treaty between the two countries on opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page on Wednesday.
Mr. Sok Hour’s lawyer said he did not forge the document, and thought it was authentic when he posted it.
“The source he got the document from was wrong,” Mr. Chanrith said. “But it’s hard to get authentic original documents in Cambodia.” Mr. Chanrith said he did not know who supplied the senator with the document.
The treaty said the two countries would demarcate the border based on existing borderlines. The version posted by Mr. Sok Hour said the two neighbors would negotiate to dissolve the borders.
The border dispute with Vietnam has become a heated political issue, with the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) accusing the ruling government of ceding land to Vietnam.
Mr. Sok Hour was arrested on Saturday at the home of a CNRP lawmaker in the capital’s Sen Sok district. After questioning at the Municipal Court on Saturday, judge Kheo Vandy charged him with forgery of public documents, use of forged public documents, and “provocation to commit crimes.”
Yesterday, Mr. Sok Hour was transported in handcuffs to Prey Sar prison, where he will await trial. A date for his trial has not yet been set.
Mr. Sok Hour, who has French citizenship, had briefly sheltered in the French embassy following the prime minister’s call for his arrest, then went to a fellow opposition politician’s house, saying that he planned to turn himself in today.
According to Ou Chanrith, a spokesman for the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Mr. Sok Hour considered fleeing the country after Hun Sen publicly called for his arrest, but was persuaded to remain. “The embassy suggested that he confront the charges and go through the formal legal process,” Mr. Chanrith said.
The French embassy’s spokesman said he could not comment on the arrest, but said the embassy is following the case closely and providing counsel to Mr. Sok Hour.
Mr. Sok Hour was seized just two days after Hun Sen called for his arrest in a speech at the National Institute of Education, causing some to label the arrest as political retribution for Mr. Sok Hour’s provocative post.
“Of course [the arrest] was politically motivated,” Mr. Chanrith said. “The CNRP was provoking [the Cambodian People’s Party] over border issues.” The arrest is just the latest chapter in a crackdown on opposition politicians that sent 14 opposition activists to prison on insurrection charges in July.
Mr. Sok Hour’s lawyers say the arrest was illegal, since the Senate has not yet formally stripped him of diplomatic immunity. According to Article 104 of the Constitution, senators can only be arrested after the Senate revokes their parliamentary immunity, unless they are caught in the act of committing a crime.
Kem Santepheab, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said the case qualifies as in flagrante delicto, since the arrest occurred within seven days of the crime. The defense, meanwhile, argues that too much time had passed since the offense. “If he was arrested the same day that he committed a crime it would be in flagrante delicto, but he was arrested much later,” said defense lawyer Choung Choungry.
The Municipal Court has submitted a request to the Senate to revoke Mr. Sok Hour’s immunity, but the Senate has not yet responded. Stripping his immunity requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, meaning the CPP can do so by a comfortable margin.
But Mr. Sok Hour’s lawyers insist that the court is violating the law by detaining the senator without first revoking his parliamentary immunity.
“They have no right to arrest him,” said Ket Khy, one of Mr. Sok Hour’s lawyers. “He should have parliamentary immunity.” The defense plans to appeal the arrest today and request that the senator be released from Prey Sar prison on bail.