Two dozen former opposition party members have been summoned by Battambang Provincial Court for allegedly violating a Supreme Court decision which dissolved the party.
In November 2017, the Supreme Court dissolved the former opposition CNRP in the wake of its leader Kem Sokha being arrested on treason charges; 118 of its senior party officials were also banned from politics for five years.
According to documents signed by provincial prosecutor Ky Bunnara yesterday, 24 former CNRP members have been summoned to appear before the court tomorrow over allegations they have continued working for a banned party. Mr Bunnara declined to comment yesterday.
Khan Bunpheng, a former CNRP commune chief, said he suspects he was summoned because last year former opposition party officials gathered at a noodle shop to show support for the appointment of Sam Rainsy as acting party president.
“The gathering was not meant to oppose the government or conduct illegal activities,” Mr Bunpheng said.
Chea Chiv, former executive committee chief for Battambang province, said he was summoned yesterday, but noted that he is no longer active in politics.
“I have no idea what I have done wrong, I am now just an ordinary citizen. I am no longer a CNRP official,” Mr Chiv said. “Why does the court want to question me? I do not understand.”
Thong Saroeun, a former CNRP district official, said he does not know why he was summoned, but will appear at the court.
“We have never made any strong criticism against the government after the party was dissolved,” Mr Saroeun said. “I have no idea why the court summoned us. I will appear in court for sure.”
Defence lawyer Sam Sokong said his clients are former sub-national officials, such as councillors and commune chiefs. He said his clients did not gather to conduct political activities.
“I do not think my clients violated the Supreme Court’s ruling,” Mr Sokong said. “They just gathered, chatted and posted on social media because they used to work together.”
He said his clients could face up to six months in jail and be fined $2,500 each if found guilty, and that more people are expected to be summoned by the court.
“The 24 received summonses for allegedly violating a Supreme Court verdict by being involved in political activities,” Mr Sokong said. “I think there will be more summonses in the coming couple of days.”
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP lawmaker, yesterday noted that the 24 were not included in the Supreme Court’s list of people banned from politics.
He also noted that some former CNRP members are still active in Battambang province, adding that the summonses were issued as a warning to other former opposition officials in other provinces.
“These summonses have made the political situation tense,” he said. “They should have the complete right to express their opinions.”