Warrants have been issued for senior members of Cambodia’s former main opposition party linked to treason charges filed against the party’s leaders.
Former Cambodia National Rescue Party president Kem Sokha was charged with treason in late 2017 and remains under house arrest awaiting trial. Last week, authorities issued warrants for Sam Rainsy, Sokha’s predecessor, along with two of its vice presidents, Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang, and five other members.
They were charged with incitement to commit a felony and plotting to commit treason, charges they deny.
All of those charged are currently living abroad having fled the country after a widespread crackdown on the opposition and civil society in the lead up to and the aftermath of a general election last year.
In late 2017, the Supreme Court banned the CNRP and ruled that 118 CNRP officials were barred from political life.
The warrants were issued shortly after Rainsy made a public statement pledging to return to Cambodia despite the threat of arrest.
He said Cambodia had become “the private property of one individual and family”, referring to the vast wealth accumulated by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family. “The individual and family have been dividing Cambodia to sell off in pieces to foreigners,” he added.
In the face of possible trade sanctions from the European Union and the United States, he said Cambodians should come together “to liberate our nation from this individual and family who are robbing and destroying the nation”.
Chhai Eang said the party leaders had expected to be charged because “Hun Sen does not want the CNRP to be active.”
Rainsy has repeatedly called for “uprisings” by the Cambodian people and the military to overthrow Hun Sen.
Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, said the former opposition leaders had ignored the “government’s efforts to make a compromise”, without elaborating on what efforts had been made. “They are against the elections, Cambodian law, and even the constitution,” he said.
Human rights activist Suon Bunsak said the issuance of the warrants had only served to compound the “increasingly serious” political situation in Cambodia.
“I think the court’s action in issuing these arrest warrants will make the situation more serious,” he said. “Cambodian politicians should find a way to come up with a political agreement to work together for the national interest. The court's action is contrary to the will and wishes of the international community, who want to see us working together well.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen has given a majority of the 118 banned officials until April to make a request to have their political rights reinstated and threatened to seize their wealth if they publicly insult him.
So far nine ex-opposition officials have been pardoned.
“These people understand that their duty to participate in nation-building is through politics,” said Siphan, the government spokesman. “Those who proclaim themselves as Democrats but pressure others not to ask for a pardon by accusing them of being a traitor are themselves, dictators.”