PHNOM PENH —
As the government prepares to dissolve the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and reallocate its seats to minor parties, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has joined calls for the release of the leader of the opposition, who was jailed on treason charges last month.
The European Union, the United States, and United Nations have all voiced their concerns over Kem Sokha’s arrest ahead of next year’s general election.
At its annual general assembly in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, the IPU, a grouping of some 173 parliamentarians from around the world, issued a statement voicing its “alarm at the plight” of Cambodia’s opposition.
“The core evidence used to justify his detention was a video of a public speech he gave to the Cambodian diaspora in Australia in late 2013. The organization has deplored the fact that the video was being used as evidence of treason, and has demanded that Mr. Sokha be immediately released and allowed to resume his duties as both a parliamentarian and the president of the opposition,” it said.
Since Sokha’s arrest, more than half of the opposition’s MPs have fled into exile abroad, citing fears of arrest and politicized court cases.
“The IPU has also urged the Cambodian authorities to allow for the return of opposition MPs who had been forced into exile so that they could campaign freely in the rapidly approaching 2018 election,” the IPU added.
Saber Chowdhury, Bangladeshi lawmaker and IPU chair, and German lawmaker Bernd Fabritus called for a fact-finding mission to be dispatched to Cambodia, a move welcomed by Cambodian Senator Yang Sem.
Yang Sem, however, denied that the authorities’ actions had led the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers to flee the country.
“We didn’t chase these people out. These people left on their own, and they could come back anytime they want,” Sem added. “That’s the guarantee.”
Sok Eysan, a ruling Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker, said the IPU’s statement was a “violation of sovereignty” and carried “no authority”.
“What they said was not connected to the reality on the ground in Cambodia at all,” he said
On Wednesday, the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists published a report describing the “weaponization” of Cambodia’s judicial system and its use to prosecute dissidents and political opponents of the ruling party.