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After Leader Sentenced, Opposition Remains Defiant

Opposition CNRP's supporters gather at the party's headquarter in Phnom Penh to show their support to Kem Sokha as the court hear the appeal of his alleged sex scandal case, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday September 9, 2016. (Photo: Leng Len/VOA Khmer) ​​​

Kem Sokha has spent nearly four months holed up in the party headquarters in Phnom Penh after the authorities attempted to arrest him in April.

The deputy leader of Cambodia’s main opposition party on Sunday accused the judiciary of being used as a political tool by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Kem Sokha, the deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, said after he was convicted on Friday to five months in prison for failing to appear in court for questioning, that the courts were being used to “break up” the CNRP.

“They are breaking us up, destroying the Cambodian judiciary through the violation of human rights and the breaking up of the judiciary system, the use of courts as a political tool. This is a serious consequence that would seriously affect the democratic process in Cambodia,” he said.

A spokesman for the CPP immediately dismissed the claim.

Sokha has spent nearly four months holed up in the party headquarters in Phnom Penh after the authorities attempted to arrest him in April.

He is being sought by the courts for questioning in a prostitution case which alleges he engaged in an affair.

“If this court system still didn’t provide justice to all of us, land right activists, human rights activists, environmental defenders, the opposition party, and the [opposition] leaders competing for change, we would consider using our rights to hold mass demonstrations nationwide and in Phnom Penh,” he said.

Sokha was also fined about $200 by the court on Friday.

Ly Sophanna, spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, could not be reached for comment.

But Sok Eysan, a CPP spokesman, said the court had acted properly.

“As a perpetrator who does not acknowledge his guilt, he would say that,” Eysan said.

Analysts said that calling mass demonstrations must be a last resort.

Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, said that any such demonstration could lead to more violence and instability.

“Another option is if [the CNRP] can convince [the CPP] to negotiate… but now the ruling party continues to do wrong and people will protest to express their views.”

Meas Ny, another analyst, said the CNRP may use a demonstration as a way of gaining a better negotiating position with the ruling party.

“The CNRP should continue to be patient and reduce the risks that can occur from direct confrontation between the CNRP supporters and the armed forces,” he said, adding that any violence at a mass demonstration would be seized upon by the ruling party as justification for further controls.

Eysan of the CPP said it would be impossible for a political settlement to interfere with the work of the courts, despite similar agreements in recent years leading to pardons of senior opposition figures, paving the way for a wider political settlement.

General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said it was the right of all Cambodians to hold political protests, so long as they were not intended to “topple the government.”