Rights workers say recent legal action against opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha amounts to political pressure that coincides with the government crackdown on demonstrators.
Both men, who lead the Cambodia National Rescue Party, have been called to court over ongoing demonstrations in the capital, where opposition supporters have called for a new election and the removal of Prime Minister Hun Sen from his post.
The crackdown comes as opposition members were planning to begin negotiations with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to resolve a monthslong political impasse that stemmed from July’s election. The opposition says it lost the election to fraud and irregularities and has refused to join the newly formed government.
Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst, said political talks are not likely to succeed at this point without a third-party moderator. And she said putting political burden on the court could hurt negotiations.
“That is not a democratic strategy,” she said.
Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said there is no evidence either Sam Rainsy or Kem Sokha are behind violence during demonstrations. And no one has been called to court over the killing of five people on Friday, when elite soldiers opened fire on protesters.
“We have video showing soldiers firing directly into the crowd,” he said. “Not over their heads, but into the crowd. And that’s what the court should be investigating—and not being used as a political tool of Hun Sen.”
Ny Chakrya, chief investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the court summons constitutes “political pressure” to force the Rescue Party to negotiate.
However, government spokesman Phay Siphan called the summons “a legal procedure” not related to negotiations.
Both leaders are to appear in court Jan. 14.
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