Lawyers of former opposition leader Kem Sokha on Saturday issued a statement condemning an exchange between Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen speculating when Mr Sokha’s treason case would come to an end, calling it “an interference in the judiciary process”.
The exchange between the two political rivals started when Mr Rainsy began antagonising Mr Hun Sen on Facebook as the country celebrated Independence Day on Friday.
“Does Hun Sen dare to bet with me? We will have to wait for ‘a horse to grow horns’ before he frees Kem Sokha,” Mr Rainsy said on Facebook. “I still believe that under international pressure, he will be forced to release Mr Sokha in the near future.”
“If Hun Sen defeats me in this bet […] I would like to turn myself and be detained with Kem Sokha,” he added. “But if I win, I would like him to step down from office.”
Mr Sokha remains under court supervision, limited to a four-block radius around his home, after being granted bail while awaiting trial for allegedly colluding with the US to topple the government.
Mr Rainsy has been claiming that the charges will be nullified as pressure mounts on Mr Hun Sen.
Mr Hun Sen replied to Mr Rainsy on Friday by agreeing to the bet during an interview with local media.
“I bet with Sam Rainsy that if Kem Sokha is released, Hun Sen will resign,” he said. “But if not, Sam Rainsy will dare to be arrested.”
Mr Rainsy lives in exile due to a number of court cases hanging over his head.
On Saturday, Mr Hun Sen again addressed the bet, saying that he was pushed by Mr Rainsy to accept the bet.
“I decided to bet with Sam Rainsy because he pushed me against the wall without a choice,” Mr Hun Sen said. “If I did not accept, they would accuse me of being a coward. Sam Rainsy is plotting to kill Kem Sokha’s political career.”
The spat between the two prompted Kem Sokha’s lawyers to issue a statement on Saturday expressing regret.
“We think that the release or acquittal of Kem Sokha is decided by the court,” the statement said. “The bet impacts court procedures.”
“The bet is fracturing the nation,” it added. “We are calling for the Khmer politicians to adhere to virtue, morality and show a good example for the next generation.”
Meanwhile, supporters of the former opposition party in the United States and France have issued a statement condemning the bet.
“We absolutely condemn the immoral attitude that could seriously endanger Kem Sokha and the millions of Cambodians who have advocated for freedom, democracy and human rights,” the statement said. “Sam Rainsy is fracturing Khmer politics because this is directly linked with the courts.”
The Justice Ministry yesterday released a statement slamming Mr Rainsy for creating public confusion.
“Kem Sokha was placed under court suppression and he is not under ‘temporary’ detention,” the ministry statement said. “Kem Sokha is currently under an investigating judge of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Only it has the jurisdiction to decide when Kem Sokha will be released.”