PHNOM PENH —
The Cambodian regime’s fear of losing the upcoming general election led it to detain opposition leader Kem Sokha on spurious treason charges, his daughter has said.
Kem Samathida, Sokha’s daughter, who has no formal role in the Cambodia National Rescue Party, told VOA Khmer in an email that the charges brought against her father were an insult to the intelligence of Cambodians.
“Their fear of losing the 2018 election has never been more obvious as evidenced by the arrest of my father along with the crackdowns on the media and civil society. They don't even have [the] decency to come up with more believable excuses. They don't even have the time to think [about] creating a lie that some people could buy,” she said.
“This is them crossing the line and they will keep going until we put a stop to it. This is them handcuffing and locking up their challenger and sending him to a prison far away. They will continue to use the ‘justice’ system and armed forces to attack anyone in a position to lead [the] CNRP until we run out of people,” she added.
Sokha was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on Sunday and charged with espionage under Cambodia’s treason laws over a speech he gave in Australia several years ago in which he alluded to receiving strategic advice from the United States and Canada.
The government claims this speech is evidence of a foreign conspiracy to topple the regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power in Phnom Penh for more than 30 years.
Samathida alleged police taking part in the raid held household staff at gunpoint and stole money and cell phones and vandalized the house.
“As a human, I'm hurt beyond any existing word in the English or Khmer language... the pain caused by injustice is very common in Cambodia, so I know that many Cambodians can relate to this feeling. But with the circumstances that I'm in, I will remain strong and continue to fight for my father's release and the values that he holds dearly till the last second of my life,” she said.
Yeth Chakriya, a prosecutor, claimed in a letter on Tuesday that the speech was proof of a conspiracy launched in 1993 to overthrow the “legitimate” government.
Leng Penglong, a parliament spokesman, said an extraordinary session would be convened so a vote could be held on whether to continue with the prosecution, which leading officials have also said is not a political issue and would be handled by an independent judiciary.
If the case goes to a vote in parliament, Sokha will need more than 75 percent of the vote to overturn the charges, while the CNRP holds fewer than 45 percent of seats in the legislature.
The government has also announced it is seeking to make further arrests in the case.
“As for future arrests, everyone at CNRP is of course at risk. That's not even the question anymore. The question is what are we going to do about that? Is the world going to watch democracy being murdered? Are we going to continue to pretend that there's any form of democracy left? They're pushing us to the edge of a cliff and no doubt that they continue to push us further,” Samathida said.
Khieu Sopheak, interior spokesman, and Kirt Chantharith, police spokesman, could not be reached for comment.
Cambodia has been roundly condemned by the international media for the arrest, as well as its crackdown on independent radio stations and forced closure of the Cambodia Daily newspaper.
U.S. Senator John McCain this week also issued a statement on Twitter. He said: “The unacceptable repression of democratic leaders in Cambodia underscores the alarming growth of authoritarianism [in Cambodia].”
Sok Khemara contributed to this report.