Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday threatened foreign nationals with arrest after claiming that the governments of the United States and Canada had conspired with detained opposition leader Kem Sokha to commit “treason”.
Sokha, the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning and accused of treason over a speech he gave several years ago in which he spoke of receiving advice from the U.S. and Canada.
If found guilty, he could face up to 30 years in prison and the CNRP may face dissolution.
His arrest followed a crackdown on critical media outlets including the forced closure of the influential English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper and several local radio stations that broadcast factual programming in rural Cambodia, where the CPP traditionally draws its support base.
During a speech to Muslims in Kampong Cham province, Hun Sen, who has held power for more than 30 years, said foreign nationals had supported “the Cambodian traitor”, adding his regime would not “let foreigners use Cambodians to kill Cambodians anymore.”
“We want to know the faces of foreigners who gave lessons [to Sokha] on how to destroy our nation,” he said. “Respect Cambodia’s national sovereignty. Don’t use approaches to topple the government via a ‘color revolution’.”
He went on to claim that the 2014 killing of several Cambodian citizens by military police during a garment worker strike that turned violent was a “premeditated plan” orchestrated by Sokha and his supposed foreign backers.
About 30 people were seriously injured when troops opened fire and beat protesters calling for a minimum wage of more than $100 per month.
The government released a video of a speech Sokha gave in Melbourne in 2014 in which he talked about receiving advice from unnamed persons in the United States and Canada who advised him to leave politics to form the Cambodian Center for Human Rights to encourage grassroots support for opposition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which has a long history of corruption and human rights abuses.
Mu Sochua, CNRP vice president, denied claims of a foreign-directed conspiracy, saying that when party leaders meet with foreign representatives, the meetings are held in a transparent manner and properly publicized. “There’s nothing hidden,” she said. “Pity our nation’s democracy.”
Meas Ny, a political analyst, said he did not see any signs that Cambodians wanted to forcibly overthrow Hun Sen in a “color revolution”, adding that the government had overreacted to rhetoric.
“I don’t see any signs that those countries [the U.S. and Canada] are behind a color revolution plot,” he said.