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More Than 60 Former CNRP Members Summoned In Incitement Case

FILE - Opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party officials greet their supporters from a truck as they lead a rally during the last day of campaigning ahead of communal elections in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, June 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

More than 60 senior leaders, former lawmakers, and members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party have been summoned by a Phnom Penh court for alleged incitement, a move the opposition said to intimidate its supporters.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court summoned Sam Rainsy, who is living in self-imposed exile in France, and around 60 other former opposition leaders and activists to attend a trial to face charges of conspiracy and incitement. Sam Rainsy is required by deputy prosecutor Seng Heang to appear at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on November 26.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summoned other former CNRP leaders, including Eng Chhay Eang, Mu Sochua, and former lawmakers Ho Van, Long Ry, Ou Chanrith, and Kong Saphea, as well as lower-level officials, including former commune councilors.

Um Sam An, former CNRP lawmaker, who is also summoned by the court, said the Phnom Penh Municipal Court was Prime Minister Hun Sen's “remote-control court,” and was only looking to intimidate local opposition activists from protesting against the Cambodian People’s Party government.

He added that if Hun Sen wanted Sam Rainsy and other opposition leaders to return to the country, Hun Sen’s government should drop all travel bans and restrictions placed on opposition leaders.

“In fact, Hun Sen does not want our president Sam Rainsy or the leaders of the CNRP to enter Cambodia because he is afraid of losing his power...and especially because he fears that he cannot transfer power to his son Hun Manet,” he said.

The former lawmaker, who was previously imprisoned for commenting on the Cambodia-Vietnam border issue, said Hun Sen would not want Sam Rainsy to return because it could lead to an outpouring of support for the opposition leader.

Kuch Kimlong, a spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, declined to comment, referring questions to another municipal court spokesman, Y Rin, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Sam Rainsy had announced in late September that he planned to return to Cambodia again, but did not give a specific date. Sam Rainsy and other exiled CNRP leaders have previously asked the Cambodian government to allow them to return to the country without travel restrictions.

Sam Rainsy was blocked from returning in November 2019 and some opposition-aligned members have seen their passports canceled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sam Rainsy’s request to return comes after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced that it would conduct a hearing involving nine opposition party leaders, including Sam Rainsy, in a separate case.

Phay Siphan, a spokesperson for the Cambodian government, declined to comment on the potential lifting of a travel ban to allow former CNRP leaders to return home, saying such a decision was the responsibility of the judiciary institution.

“I am not a person who can give a decision or give an opinion. The court ordered individuals being charged to appear, and they got lawyers. So, they know how to handle this issue,” he said.

Political commentator Meas Nee said the court's allegations against former leaders and opposition party officials were politically motivated. He said the return of opposition leaders, in particular Sam Rainsy, would be a threat to the Cambodian People Party’s power.

“It means that his presence in Cambodia remains a threat to the stability of power control of the ruling party. This is what we’ve observed in general,” he said.