The opposition is continuing a campaign to collect signatures for a petition to be submitted next week that calls on King Norodom Sihamoni to intervene in the ongoing political dispute with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Pol Ham, a senior Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker, said on Friday that it had added many more thumbprints to its petition and would go ahead with plans to submit the document to the Royal Palace, despite warnings from the CPP.
“We will follow the plan, it is still the same. We will collect the thumbprints on Monday,” he said.
He added that the CNRP would hold a rally at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday to protest the court’s investigation of the party’s deputy leader, Kem Sokha, who has been charged with solicitation and for failing to appear in court for questioning.
The CNRP has repeatedly said it considers Sokha protected by his constitutionally guaranteed parliamentary immunity, while the CPP argues that there is enough evidence so that his immunity is not applicable.
At least 21 members of civil society and the opposition have been detained or charged since the breakdown of a détente between the two parties which was agreed almost a year after the disputed 2013 elections.
Two American citizens are among those who have been jailed, including the CNRP’s former head of public affairs Meach Sovannara and Um Sam An, a lawmaker.
Yim Sovann, a CNRP spokesman, said the campaign to collect thumbprints in the provinces had been met with several incidents of harassment and disruption by local authorities, which he called “a serious violation of political rights”.
“They did not violate any law,” he said. “They can keep doing it because it is freedom of expression, which we have in a democratic society.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan defended local authorities’ actions, saying the petition campaign was an act of “incitement”.
The government has initiated a costly investigation into allegations that the opposition had forged many of the thumbprints they previously submitted to the Royal Palace as part of the petition.
“If the thumbprints were really the will of the people, the local authorities would not stop them,” he claimed.
In Kong Chet, Koh Kong provincial coordinator for local rights group Licadho, said at least four CNRP officials had been briefly detained and questioned over their attempts to gather thumbprints in the area in recent days.
“We are very sorry that the provincial governor and police chief gave orders to disturb and prevent the thumbprint collection,” he said.
Koh Kong officials could not be reached on Friday.