In this official photo, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks during a meeting at the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh, April 4, 2016.
The Cambodian government appears to be ratcheting up its case against Kem Sokha as prosecutors continue to remove the legal barriers that could prevent the arrest of the opposition party leader.
On July 4, Cambodia’s Appeals Court refused to accept Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) acting president Kem Sokha’s motion to quash the legal proceedings against him, telling the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to continue with the case.
Kem Sokha has ignored summons to appear in court as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with hairdresser Khom Chandaraty and allegations of “procurement of prostitution” claiming parliamentary immunity.
The CNRP leader, his supporters and many civil society organizations contend the cases are politically motivated as the ruling Cambodian People’s Party attempts to hold onto power before the 2017 and 2018 elections. While Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) retained its hold on the government, the ruling party suffered a dramatic drop in support during the country’s last election in 2013.
“Our party’s position remains unchanged,” CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told RFA’s Khmer Service. “The allegation against Kem Sokha is politically motivated. We need to meet and talk to solve it. The dialogue needs to be convened to address this issue and other politically motivated issues once and for all."
On July 1, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s investigating judge issued a “Notice of Conclusion of Judicial” Investigation concerning Kem Sokha’s failure to appear before the court when called as a “witness.”
The notice fails to enumerate any future judicial actions, but Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophanna said that once notice is issued the case will be forwarded to the prosecutor.
Other countries’ concerns
While Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government seems to be moving inexorably toward a solution inside Cambodia, condemnation of the government’s moves continue to pile up from other countries.
Britain, France, Japan, the United States and the European Union spoke out against what they see as a narrowing space for civil society and dissent in Cambodia during the 32nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council which concluded its debates on July 1.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan denied human rights abuses by the government, saying it is trying to maintain order in the country.
While Kem Sokha has been the target of the government’s investigation, a National Election Committee member and four staffers with the rights group ADHOC, along with a U.N. worker, are facing bribery or accessory charges after being accused of attempting to pay the hairdresser to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Kem Sokha.
“The U.N. Human Rights Council’s concerns over Cambodia should be treated as a message to the government to review the human rights situation in Cambodia,” said Am Sam Ath, a senior coordinator at the rights group LICADHO. “Respect for human rights will hardly happen unless political tension is defused and political activists are not intimidated."