Former CNRP President Sam Rainsy faces preliminary charges for allegedly asking people to violate the government’s current lockdown measures, which he said was depriving residents of food and income.
The Cambodian government extended a 14-day lockdown by another week until May 5 and imposed a three-color zone system to curb the spread of COVID-19. Residents in red zones – where all private business activity is prohibited and people unable to leave their homes except for medical reasons – have complained of food shortages and lack of income that was affecting their daily lives.
Sam Rainsy released a video on Saturday telling people to leave their homes and return to work if lockdown measures were not lifted, adding that his suggestion was justified because people were suffering under the harsh restrictions.
“For the next four or ten days, if the situation is not sustainable, please get out. Get out of your homes to go about activities as normal, like going out to make a living for survival. If we stay inside our homes, we will also be dead,” Sam Rainsy said in the video.
Kim Santepheap, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said a “criminal abroad,” referring to Sam Rainsy, was being investigated by a Phnom Penh court prosecutor for his call to evade lockdown measures in the capital and Takhmau city.
“The Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s prosecutor has taken action by charging criminal Sam Rainsy yesterday for obstructing administrative measures and incitement to cause social unrest,” he said during a government conference.
The Justice Ministry official said Cambodians should not be swayed by Sam Rainsy’s statement and continue to follow lockdown measures.
Y Rin, a spokesperson at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, did not respond to requests for comment sent via Telegram on Wednesday, neither did National Police Spokesperson Chhay Kimkhoeun.
An arrest warrant was issued on April 26 cites two charges against Sam Rainsy – Article 11 of the new COVID-19 law relating to the obstruction of implementation of measures and the charge of incitement from Article 494 of the Cambodian Criminal Code.
Article 11 of the COVID-19 law, which was hastily passed in March and contains harsh prison sentences, states that obstructing the implementation of the measures aimed at preventing the spread of the disease was punishable with a prison sentence of six months to three years.
Em Sovannara, a professor of political science, said people would only heed Sam Rainsy’s call if the government failed to address their concerns during the lockdown.
“But if the lockdown measures are being implemented without effective mechanisms to relieve or reduce the burden placed on the people, Sam Rainsy’s appeal could influence people,” he said.