Cambodia’s foreign minister defended the country’s judiciary before a group of diplomats Thursday, addressing an arrest warrant issued last week for opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
The warrant, for a two-year jail sentence, is the result of a criminal defamation suit brought by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong against Sam Rainsy, for a speech in 2008 in which the opposition leader said Hor Namhong collaborated with the Khmer Rouge.
The arrest warrant has been roundly condemned by the international community, but in a one-hour meeting with more than 30 diplomats on Thursday, Hor Namhong said the case had nothing to do with politics, and the warrant had been made at the request of his lawyer.
“There was no order issued by me or instigation or advice from anyone, including me and [Prime Minister] Hun Sen, who said that he didn’t know what my lawyer was doing,” Hor Namhong said.
The warrant was issued shortly after a speech by Hun Sen last week, lambasting Sam Rainsy, the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, for claiming the ruling party intends to halt elections in 2018. This meeting comes shortly after a similar meeting with diplomats in October, where Hor Namhong sought to justify the removal of Kem Sokha from his seat as vice president of the National Assembly.
Rescue Party spokesman Yem Ponhearith said Hor Namhong should not disturb diplomats over an individual issue. “Diplomatic officials should be called for a meeting if the issue is related to national issues or social issues,” he said.
Sam Rainsy remained in self-imposed exile, for fear of arrest on his return.
Rescue Party officials were scheduled to depart for the Philippines on Thursday to meet with Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha.