Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday defended the arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha on treason accusations, lashing out at the US and foreign critics while demanding they stay out of Cambodia’s internal affairs.
Mr Sokha is being held at Trapaing Phlong prison in Thbong Khmum province following his arrest on Sunday after undated video footage from Australia-based CBN news was posted on Facebook, appearing to show Mr Sokha saying the US government had been helping him to push for regime change in Cambodia since 1993.
Mr Hun Sen has since accused the US of being a “third hand” that has been providing assistance to the CNRP to invoke regime change in Cambodia.
Following the arrest, the US State Department released a statement noting the arrest “on a number of charges that appear to be politically motivated” with grave concern.
“Kem Sokha has a long, distinguished, and internationally recognised commitment to human rights and peaceful democracy,” the statement added.
Speaking at a mosque inauguration yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said the US is simply defending its “puppet”.
“They are just defending their puppet from charges,” he said, referring to the US State Department statement.
The European Union also issued a statement following Mr Sokha’s arrest, claiming that it violated his parliamentary immunity and marked a dangerous escalation in political unrest. The EU called for Mr Sokha to be released based upon his parliamentary immunity.
But the government maintains the video amounts to a flagrant crime, which dissolves Mr Sokha’s immunity.
Mr Hun Sen said yesterday that it will be up to the courts to deal with the case now.
The premier said authorities will investigate to find out who provided strategies to the CNRP from the US to destroy Cambodia.
“Why did our politician put himself as a foreign puppet since 1993 until now?” he asked during the inauguration.
In the video footage, Mr Sokha is heard saying millions of people support the CNRP’s strategy for change in the country.
“When I was elected as a lawmaker in 1993, the US government invited me as the first politician to travel to the United States to learn and understand about democracy,” he said.
“Since then I have been going there every year.”
“The United States has helped me. They instructed me to follow similar models as those in Yugoslavia and Serbia, which successfully changed the dictatorial leaders there,” Mr Sokha allegedly said, adding that “change” in those countries was successful because of the strategy they used.
The US government told him to follow this example and execute a similar strategy in Cambodia, Mr Sokha added, citing how the leader of the former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, was forced to step down by mass protest in 2000.
Mr Hun Sen, who has since blamed the CNRP and the US “third hand” for the deadly 2014 Veng Sreng protests that left at least four people dead, said the government will continue to take action against people who are destroying nation.
“Moving forward, peace is the priority,” he said. “Whatever the cost is, we cannot allow foreigners to use Khmers to kill Khmers. We have to maintain peace and we will not allow any group or foreign puppet to destroy Khmers.”
US Embassy information officer David Josar declined to comment.
Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy said accusations against Mr Sokha are baseless, adding that his arrest is a gross attempt to decapitate the opposition less than a year before the July 2018 national election.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophana said yesterday that deputy prosecutor Kuoch Kimlong will continue questioning Mr Sokha today.
“The prosecutor is checking on documents and various evidence, and will continue procedures tomorrow,” he said.