The Ministry of Interior has filed a complaint to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court concerning five unnamed former opposition figures, claiming the quintet violated a Supreme Court verdict by continuing to engage in politics.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday confirmed that a complaint was filed last week, but withheld the names.
“We filed a complaint against individuals who have committed activities that violated the Supreme Court verdict that banned them from doing politics – the outstanding individuals who have done the most active and serious activities,” he said.
“They still want to create the desire to topple Cambodia’s legitimate government and they keep the desire to be prime minister.”
The Cambodia National Rescue Party – the country's main opposition and formerly the only legitimate contender to unseat Prime Minister Hun Sen at this year’s national election – was forcibly dissolved by the Supreme Court in November over accusations it was fomenting "colour revolution".
The court also banned 118 of its most senior politicians from participating in politics for five years. Legal amendments rushed through parliament last year by the ruling Cambodian People's Party empowered the Supreme Court to dissolve parties or suspend them for five years, but there is currently no legal provision allowing it to ban individuals from the political sphere.
Last month, some senior members of the opposition, including former party president Sam Rainsy and deputy president Mu Sochua, formed the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) in exile.
Rainsy has said the movement was established to call for nonviolent protests against the ongoing political crackdown, but he has yet to formally do so.
Sochua today dismissed the Interior Ministry's complaint.
“It goes to show that they are haunted by even our shadows,” she said in a message. “They can file any law suits they wish to a court that has no trust [of] the people.”
“The [Supreme Court] decision cannot dictate the will of half a nation that wants positive change,” she added, alluding to the 44 percent of the vote the CNRP won in 2013 and again in local elections last year.
Sopheak refused to name the five individuals because he “didn’t want to let them know”, but he denied his party was afraid of the opposition.
“It is not being afraid. It is a good thing for Cambodia that our ancestors or angels who look after the Angkor Wat temples told us to see the poisoned activity of CNRP,” he said, adding that the purported plot for a colour revolution was discovered “accidentally” because CNRP President Kem Sokha “himself confessed it”.
Sopheak appeared to be referring to a video from 2013 in which Sokha talked about receiving US guidance on grassroots democracy during his political career, which was interpreted by the ruling party as colluding with foreign powers. The video was one of the few pieces of evidence presented to support the accusations of colour revolution.
Sokha was arrested on charges of “treason” shortly after the video reemerged and he remains incarcerated in a remote prison near the Vietnamese border.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophana also declined disclose who was named in the complaint, referring questions back to the Interior Ministry.
Former CNRP lawmaker Long Botta, currently in self-exile in France, said Hun Sen was running a “puppet court”, and that the latest complaint was one in a long string of legal campaigns launched by the ruling party.
“This regime, for several decades, has never found anything, but it arrests the opposition officials … We cannot keep [allowing it] and we need to react,” he said.
Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch, said the latest legal step was “a one-two punch designed to knock down the CNRP networks still operating in the country”.
“By filing this criminal complaint on bogus charges against these 5 CNRP representatives, the Ministry of Interior primarily aims to shut the door, and prevent them from ever returning to Cambodia,” he said in an email.
“The government knows it can intimidate rank and file opposition activists by showing them even senior CNRP persons are not safe from rights abusing retaliation.”
Updated: 8:24am, Friday 16 February 2018