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Opposition Members Summoned Back to Court

A Cambodian lawmaker from the main opposition party of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Mu Sochua, center, gestures to make the number seven, the party's ballot number, before being detained by authorities at Freedom Park, in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Eight opposition members have been called back to court, facing lingering charges of insurrection and incitement as Cambodia’s dueling political parties continue to fine tune details of an agreement last month.

The seven lawmakers and one assistant for the Cambodia National Rescue Party were released on bail after a July 22 political deal between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The deal broke through a political impasse that had been in place since an opposition boycott of the government in the wake of July 2013 elections it said were fraudulent. Rights workers say they fear the courts and the arrests of the lawmakers are being used in political negotiations.

The lawmakers, including outspoken senior Rescue Party member Mu Sochua, will be summoned to court over the next two weeks, starting Aug. 8. It is unclear whether charges will be dropped or whether they will be sent back to jail and face a trial over clashes between opposition supporters and Phnom Penh security personnel on July 15, in which some 50 people were injured, some of them seriously.

Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha said the party received the summonses on Thursday last week, in what he called a well-established “trick” of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. “They use the courts to make threats and politicize them all the time,” he said. “So it’s time now.” The summonses are a sign the courts need immediate reform, he said.

Long Ry, a Rescue Party official facing the charges, said he will go to court. “What can we do?” he said. “Because we aren’t running away.”

The ruling party and opposition are currently trying to reform the National Election Committee, with each side selecting four of nine members and a final member being agreed upon by each. The two sides are also settling on positions within the National Assembly for Rescue Party lawmakers.

As the court process moves forward, 55 Rescue Party lawmakers are slated to give oaths at the Royal Palace on Tuesday afternoon—a procedure that would cement the political deal and restart a government that has been stalled for a year.

Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann said small details remain to be worked out in political negotiations, but they are minor and can be dealt with after the swearing-in. However, the opposition has not yet agreed on a date to take its seats at the Assembly, he said.

Ny Chakrya, lead investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the sooner the opposition can sit in the Assembly, the better. “They have to give oaths to take seats at the National Assembly to enforce these reforms.”

Cambodia’s rights and democracy groups, meanwhile, say more reforms are needed. In a statement issued Monday, a coalition of groups called for further changes to the rules of the National Assembly, including better public access to government information and more participation in lawmaking by civil society.

(Additional reporting by Khoun Theara in Phnom Penh.)