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Supreme Court Schedules Hearing for Opposition Party Dissolution

​FILE: President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha, and other leaders, during the first day of election campaign, in Phnom Penh, May 20, 2017. (Khan Sokummono/VOA Khmer)

Earlier this month, the Interior Ministry filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court seeking to dissolve the CNRP after Kem Sokha was charged with committing “treason.”

The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Cambodia’s main opposition party, for November 16, according to a letter posted on the government-aligned Fresh News website.

The letter, whose authenticity was confirmed by Supreme Court deputy prosecutor-general Ouk Kimsith, was signed October 27 by Dith Munthy, president of the court. It summoned CNRP President Kem Sokha to attend the 8 a.m. hearing in Phnom Penh.

Mr. Sokha is currently jailed in a remote prison along the Vietnamese border on accusations of treason and conspiring to overthrow the government. His party faces dissolution under recent controversial amendments to the Law on Political Parties, which gave the Supreme Court broad authority to disband a party for affecting the security of the state, among other vaguely defined prohibitions.

Earlier this month, the Interior Ministry filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court seeking to dissolve the CNRP after Kem Sokha was charged with committing “treason.” The main evidence against him is a video clip of him giving a speech in Australia in late 2013, which reappeared online a few hours prior to his arrest. Prime Minister Hun Sen said the remarks in the video should be considered proof of an attempt to topple his government.

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, told VOA on Friday that the party was sure to be dissolved because it had failed to submit any documents to the court defending itself.

“First, the opposition has abandoned its defense rights without submitting any documents to the Supreme Court,” he said, explaining why the dissolution would move forward.

“Second…the opposition party perceived that they have no chance of winning; therefore, they submitted nothing to the Supreme Court. Third, the opposition has always disobeyed rules and regulations. Fourth, the party is having problems in its [inner] relations, from the bottom to the top.”

CNRP officials could not be reached for comment. Around half of the party’s lawmakers fled the country after Mr. Sokha’s arrest, fearing that they would be swept up in what has proven to be a deep and wide-ranging crackdown on opposition voices.

Human rights groups and many of Cambodia’s international donors have criticized the move to dissolve the CNRP, saying that the charges of treason are spurious and that the action will fatally undermine the country’s fledgling democracy.

The opposition received support from more than 40 percent of the population in commune elections in June, and its absence from the field is expected to have a major impact on the national election scheduled for next year. Senior government officials have responded that the government is simply enforcing regulations impartially and in line with the rule of law.

Also on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled to strike nine little-known political parties from the Interior Ministry’s official registrar, accusing them of failing to follow the controversial new law.

Those nine parties are Khmer People Party, the Khmer Citizens Party, the Khmer Society Party, the Sangkum Thmey Party, the Khmer Nationalism Party, the Neang Neak Neary Khmer Party, the Freedom Light Party, the Woman Rescue Cambodia Party and the Liberal Unification Party.

Ouk Kimsith, the deputy prosecutor-general, said the decision was justified since the nine parties had clearly failed to comply with the Law on Political Parties.

“The reasons for the dissolution are that some parties did not file reports to the Interior Ministry, some parties didn’t register, some parties showed no political activities, and some didn’t even have proper headquarters,” Mr. Kimsith told VOA Khmer.

Mr. Kimsith declined to comment on the progress of the dissolution case against the CNRP.

Chhim Kan, head of the Interior Ministry’s department of association affairs and political parties, said that up until Monday, there were a total of 49 political parties in Cambodia, including the nine newly disbanded ones.

He said the nine parties would be immediately dissolved as soon as the Supreme Court order arrived at his office. He added that if the court ruled to disband the CNRP in November, that decision would also go into effect similarly quickly.