The banned opposition party on Wednesday requested that the Cambodian government lift travel restrictions and reinstate high-ranking members’ passports to clear the way for nine party officials summoned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to return to the country.
One day after the court announced the hearing, scheduled for November 11, the CNRP released a statement demanding that the government meet four “preliminary conditions” before the officials would consider returning.
“The Cambodian National Rescue Party reaffirms that its top level leaders currently in exile will return to Cambodia in the nearest future,” the statement said.
The party asked the government to restore Cambodian passports that were revoked from the exiled officials; not compel airlines to block officials from traveling to Cambodia; urge Southeast Asian countries, specifically Thailand, to remove officials’ names from travel blacklists; and allow citizens to peacefully gather at airports or border checkpoints to wait for arriving CNRP members.
The four provisions allude to the CNRP’s attempt to return to Cambodia last November, in which the banned party’s co-founder, Sam Rainsy, was unable to board a November 7 flight from Paris to Bangkok, while vice president Mu Sochua was detained by Malaysian authorities in Kuala Lumpur on November 6 along with two CNRP youth activists.
On Tuesday, the municipal court summoned nine high-ranking CNRP members to appear at 8 a.m. on November 11 to face charges of plotting an attack, under articles 27 and 451 of the Criminal Code. In addition to Rainsy and Sochua, the summons includes the CNRP’s co-vice president Eng Chhai Eang; former National Assembly member and Rainsy’s wife Tioulong Saumura; and former lawmakers Ou Chanrith, Ho Vann, Long Ry, Men Sothavarin and Nut Rumdoul.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry canceled the passports of four of the now-summoned officials last November, ahead of Rainsy’s attempted return.
Rainsy said in an email that the opposition officials would wait for a response to their four-point request from the government and the “Kangaroo court” before making any travel plans.
“If there is no sensible response from them, everybody will laugh at their inconsistency,” he said.
While handing out flood relief in Banteay Meanchey province on Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen did not acknowledge the summons, but warned people against participating in protests “ordered from overseas.”
“Just remember! The water is flooding. Don’t be messing around,” the premier said. “[We’re] having floods, having Covid, so don’t be messing around and don’t go and raise three fingers,” he said, alluding to the hand sign used by Thai protesters demanding the dissolution of parliament and a new Constitution.
Political analyst Em Sovannara told VOD on Tuesday that the summons was meant to show that the government is following legal procedure as it pursues and quashes oppositional voices.
Authorities arrested at least 45 activists, opposition supporters and other vocal critics this year, according to records kept by VOD and various rights groups.
“If there are no procedures for the accusations, or trials, it would be seen that these accusations are politically motivated,” Sovannara said.
Rainsy has lived abroad since 2015 to avoid criminal convictions that he calls political, while Sochua left the country in late 2017 amid a crackdown on the opposition party, independent media and NGOs.
Mid-November has proven a significant period for the opposition party: Rainsy promised to return to Cambodia on November 9 last year but failed to arrive, citing travel restrictions from the Thai government. And two years prior to Rainsy’s travels, the party was dissolved by the Supreme Court on November 16.
Last March, the municipal court filed arrest warrants against eight CNRP officials — seven of whom appeared on Tuesday’s summons — for “plotting” and “incitement” crimes allegedly committed in January 2019.
Additional reporting by Nhim Sokhorn