PHNOM PENH —
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party could face dissolution if its president, who was charged this week with espionage, does not step down.
Mu Sochua, CNRP vice president, told VOA Khmer on Wednesday that Sokha would not resign from the position.
“The CNRP’s position is that Kem Sokha is the president. It is said that the party will be dissolved, but we will not change our leader,” she said. “If they want to dissolve the party, then dissolve it.”
Sokha was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on his home in Phnom Penh on Sunday and accused of treason over a years-old speech in which he spoke of receiving advice from the U.S. and Canada.
If found guilty, he could face up to 30 years in prison.
His arrest followed a crackdown on critical media outlets including the forced closure of the influential English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper and several local radio stations that broadcast independent programming in rural Cambodia, where the CPP traditionally draws its support base.
Sochua added that Sokha’s arrest violated his parliamentary immunity, but the government has claimed there is sufficient evidence of a serious crime having taken place to annul his protections.
Prak Sokhon, a foreign minister, sent a statement to diplomatic missions on Wednesday saying the case was a “clear act of treason”.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has threatened to arrest foreigners deemed to have been involved in the alleged conspiracy.
The government released a video of a speech Sokha gave in Melbourne in 2014 in which he talked about receiving advice from unnamed persons in the United States who advised him to leave politics to form the Cambodian Center for Human Rights to encourage grassroots support for opposition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which has a long history of corruption and human rights abuses.
Sam Rainsy, who lives in exile in France, resigned from the party on February 11 after the ruling Cambodian People’s Party began legal proceedings that could have led to the CNRP’s dissolution if he had not stepped down.
According to the political parties law, if Sokha is convicted, the CNRP has 90 days to replace him as leader or face dissolution.
Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, claimed the courts would make an independent judgment in the case.