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Hun Sen Says ‘Culture of Dialogue’ Doesn’t Trump Courts

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) talks to the press with Sam Rainsy (L) president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), after the National Assembly vote to select the members of National Election Committee in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on April 9th, 2015. (Nov Povleakhena/VOA Khmer)

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday warned that the “culture of dialogue” between the ruling party and opposition is a political principle that has no power to intervene in legal matters.

The term has been touted by both the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, particularly since the two reached a political deal late last year, as a principle of discussion and negotiation.

Last week, both sides declared they would continue to abide by it, working toward a code of conduct to prevent threats and insults to one another.

But at a graduation ceremony Monday morning, Hun Sen warned that such a principle did not mean that political parties can intervene in court matters, especially concerning activists in jail and facing charges.

“The ‘culture of dialogue’ has no power over the law, constitutional law, or any other powers,” Hun Sen said. Activists who “violate the law” cannot be freed by it, he said. “I would like to warn you in advance: it is impossible,” he said.

Members of parliament still have the power to call government officials for questioning, he added.

Yim Sovann, a Rescue Party spokesman, said the “culture of dialogue” has provided stability to Cambodia’s political situation, but he said his party would continue to provide “constructive criticism” where it is warranted.

Rights groups have long criticized the courts for their corruption and political bias towards Hun Sen’s CPP, claiming arrests and jail sentences are used to quash dissent and chill the opposition.