UPDATED Nov. 16 — Citing around $2 million in unpaid penalties, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge announced that the outlawed CNRP’s former headquarters would be placed on sale, another symbolic loss the day before the four-year anniversary of the party’s demise.
Four pages of court documents were pasted to the Meanchey district building’s wall, with a nearby resident saying officials had come by just that morning.
They listed four separate convictions against CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy, who owns the building and has a house on the same plot behind the former party headquarters. They said the property would be forcibly sold to meet his court debts.
The cases were defamation against Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2017, for which Rainsy was ordered to pay $1 million; defamation against National Assembly president Heng Samrin in 2015, penalized $62,500; insulting Interior Minister Sar Kheng in 2019, for $500,000; and an attack against the government in 2019, for $450,000.
Rainsy has also amassed decades of prison terms through those cases. Some of the penalties listed on the four court documents this week appear higher than from the initial convictions.
Kim Heang, CEO of Khmer Real Estate, said land in the area was generally worth around $1,500-2,000 per square meter.
Based on satellite imagery, the land is roughly 10 by 120 meters, making its value about $1.8-2.4 million.
The CNRP, once the country’s main opposition party, which pushed the ruling CPP to near defeat, was dissolved on November 16, 2017 following a strong showing during that year’s commune elections.
Rainsy told VOD the planned forced sale was “financial persecution.”
“Political, judicial and now financial persecution. They want to reach me by all means. By they cannot break my will because I am far above their petty considerations,” he said.
Mu Sochua, CNRP vice president, said questions about whether Rainsy had paid any of the fines or the party had plans to pay them were “irrelevant to democracy.”
“The CNRP HQ is the symbol of democracy for the majority of the people of Cambodia,” she said, noting its use for discussions and debates on freedoms and rights.
She also recalled Kem Sokha, the party’s other co-founder, hunkering down in the building for over six months to evade arrest in 2016. “People poured in to protect Mr. Kem Sokha,” she said.
“Many non violent public demonstrations started there. It was the epicenter of democracy. The building shall remain in Cambodia’s history for the struggle for democracy,” Sochua added. “Whatever the puppet courts decide to do to the CNRP HQ will only further demonstrate that democracy will not have any chance to grow.”
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said the latest action was not about targeting the CNRP again.
“That would be a personal understanding. The most important thing is the court implements the court verdict,” Eysan said.
He added that the country still had many opposition parties, and they were all equal before the law.
“We have about 50 parties that are competitors,” he said.
After the CNRP was dissolved, the CPP won every seat in the 2018 National Assembly election.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said losing the headquarters was another blow to the CNRP.
“In our Cambodian culture you have to have the real thing,” he said, referring to a physical building or space. “But for now it is OK. If they don’t have it they can work at their homes.”
Seng Sary, a political scientist based in Bangkok, said the plans to sell the property showed the ruling party would not be entertaining the notion of negotiations with the banned opposition.
“The decision to sell the property of the CNRP headquarters forcibly — this is a sign to end or block the road of negotiations between the CNRP and CPP, which seemingly have around the same level of supporters … and it shows that the CNRP cannot survive.”
Updated on November 16 with comments from Sam Rainsy and Mu Sochua
Additional reporting by Michael Dickison