PHNOM PENH —
Phnom Penh Municipal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sam Rainsy, the leader of Cambodia’s opposition party.
The warrant stems from a guilty verdict in a 2008 defamation case brought by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, after Sam Rainsy publicly accused him of collusion with the Khmer Rouge in a security camp. That verdict carried a penalty of two years in jail, as well as fines.
The warrant—issued by a court system widely viewed as corrupt and biased toward the ruling Cambodian People’s Party—comes amid increased political tensions between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party.
It was prompted by a letter from Hor Namhong’s lawyer to the court, requesting that it follow through on its verdict, which was upheld by the Appeals Court in 2013.
The warrant calls for the immediate arrest of Sam Rainsy, a development opposition lawmaker Eng Chhai Eang called “ridiculous” and unconstitutional—due to Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity. “Another thing is that Sam Rainsy has been pardoned by the king since June 2013,” he said.
Eng Chhai Eang accused the CPP of using the court in a “political game” against Sam Rainsy and the opposition. Sam Rainsy is currently in South Korea and had planned to return Nov. 16. It is unclear whether he now will.
His arrest warrant comes just one day after Hun Sen publicly insulted Sam Rainsy, calling him a “traitor’s son,” a historical reference to Sam Rainsy’s father, who had at one time opposed the monarchy. Hun Sen was apparently angered by a speech Sam Rainsy gave in Japan, claiming the ruling party wanted to avoid 2018 elections.
In October, the CPP organized an anti-opposition protest, after which two Rescue Party lawmakers were savagely beaten by masked men. The CPP then voted for the ouster of Kem Sokha, the vice president of the opposition, from a top post at the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, Hun Sen has a message posted on his official Facebook page, calling for his supporters to be ready to “respond” to actions organized by the Rescue Party—an apparent call for counter-demonstrations against pro-opposition rallies. “It’s not to provoke,” he says in the message. “But we’re just responding to their actions. Rights against rights. Law against the offenders. Armed forces against an act that attempts to overthrow the government. It’s called power management.”