CNRP Members Abroad Vow Return Amid Mounting Arrests

8 min read
The former CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh before the opposition party was dissolved in November 2017.

Members of the outlawed opposition CNRP who have fled the country said this week that they will return to Cambodia next month alongside leader Sam Rainsy, despite the growing number of people arrested in connection with their support for Rainsy’s promised homecoming.

CNRP activist Suon Chamroeun on Tuesday said he had fled to Thailand the day before, after receiving a tip that he would be summoned by the Battambang Provincial Court.

“I think the summons letter is just like the toilet tissue,” Chamroeun told VOD. “It’s useless. It’s not about law.”

The activist was accused of “plotting” an attack, and is now among dozens of CNRP supporters who have been charged in relation to their alleged involvement in what the government has branded an opposition-led “coup” attempt.

National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun told VOD on Tuesday that authorities were continuing to search and arrest those involved in Rainsy’s plan but the spokesman declined to elaborate.

“I can’t tell you how far the process will go. Partly, we have to strengthen law enforcement. Regarding how it will be implemented, if I tell you it seems like I’m revealing the way for them to run away,” Kim Khoeun said.

Chamroeun, 37, said he had hid from police while in Battambang province and fled the country when he heard the court would summon him.

But the activist said he and others would soon accompany Rainsy — “the only one hope that we can rescue the country” — on his return, and were willing to risk arrest.

“I’m not afraid, and not only me, all the people,” Chamroeun said.

“We will sacrifice,” he added. “We don’t believe that the government can arrest all the people.”

Arrests have mounted since mid-August — at least 30 to date — when Rainsy announced that he would return to Cambodia on November 9 to lead a “people-power” movement aimed at restoring the dissolved opposition party and forcing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s resignation.

Rainsy, the CNRP’s co-founder, has lived abroad since 2015 to avoid criminal convictions, which he calls politically motivated. Hun Sen had led the country since 1985.

The CNRP was dissolved by Supreme Court order in November 2017, following the arrest of party president Kem Sokha on treason charges, which he denies.

Since January, more than 40 CNRP members, activists and former officials have been charged and arrested, mostly in connection to their expressed support for the promised return of Rainsy and other senior CNRP leaders to the country, according to a list shared by CNRP vice president Mu Sochua.

Chin Malin, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said arrest warrants were issued for former opposition party officers because courts found evidence that they had committed crimes.

“We cannot determine when the arrests will be stopped. Whenever the court has found offenses, the court will take legal action,” Malin said.

Speaking from Washington, D.C. on Monday, Sochua said she was preparing for her forthcoming trip to Cambodia.

The CNRP’s key objectives were the release of Sokha from house arrest, maintaining the Everything But Arms preferential trade agreement with the E.U. and preparing for free and fair elections in the future, Sochua told VOD.

“I am sure there will be some kind of dialogue because the EBA pressure is huge on Hun Sen,” she said.

Suspension of the trade agreement would cost $514-654 million for garments and footwear exports, according to the World Bank.

In terms of dialogue between Hun Sen’s ruling CPP and the CNRP, Sochua said there were no backchannels of communication. The parties communicated through public statements, she said.

Hun Sen and other officials have said Rainsy and other senior leaders would be arrested if they attempted to cross the border into Cambodia. Last month, Rainsy, Sochua and other former parliamentarians were charged with “attack,” a crime that includes acts liable to endanger government institutions and carries a punishment of up to 30 years in prison.

But Sochua said CNRP leaders living abroad intended to return to Cambodia to be “politically active,” and not to be arrested.

“We return when there is an agreement, so we can return to be free to meet our members and be free to prepare for the next elections,” she said.

Sochua said she was “certain there will be a great number of migrant workers crossing the border” from Thailand on November 9, because the CNRP had “huge networks” of migrant workers in the country.

“Nothing should stop them from crossing the border to go home,” she added.

She said there were more than 200 CNRP members and supporters who had fled Cambodia and were now living in Thailand.

“And they will be going home, when the time comes, on the 9th.”

On Friday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued an arrest warrant for Morn Phalla, the former chairman of the CNRP’s Phnom Penh executive committee who has lived abroad for more than two years. The warrant came after two former opposition officials, Seng Sokhorn and Tith Sophat, named Phalla in video confessions before authorities, linking him to the CNRP’s plans to return to the country. 

Phalla told VOD in a message that the announcement to arrest him and other activists is a kind of human rights violation, and he would not be deterred from returning to Cambodia, even though he faces imprisonment. 

“I am not surprised by the dictatorial regime that always mistreats activists who love democracy,” Phalla said. “I am still determined to follow Mr. Sam Rainsy in returning on November 9.”

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the ruling CPP’s actions were moving the country further away from democratic principles.

“That regime does not even trust people and makes people stop trusting [the government],” Mong Hay said.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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