Cambodia opposition leader convicted

Cambodia National Rescue Party acting leader Kem Sokha refused to show up at a trial for political reasons. He threatens to “hold mass demonstrations throughout the country”, refuses to be gagged. The government lifted his parliamentary immunity thanks to a constitutional provision.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – On 9 September, a Cambodian court sentenced Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha to five months in prison.

“We will consider using our right to hold mass demonstrations throughout the country and in Phnom Penh,” the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) acting president said in a speech to his supporters at the party headquarters.

“We cannot lie down, let them tie our hands and legs, close our nose and mouth till we die. Even animals will also struggle.”

As a result of this, tensions are rising over (a politically motivated) legal battle that has pitted government and the main opposition party against each other.

Sokha was convicted on Friday for refusing to appear for questioning in a prostitution case against two fellow lawmakers. He has always stated that the case is the work of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) to weaken the opposition.

On 26 May, police raided his party’s headquarters hoping to arrest him, but he eluded them.

The court’s ruling has angered CNRP supporters, who demonstrated in front of the Phnom Penh municipal court

After a brief scuffle with police, the demonstration ended with the arrest of an activist, released after a few hours.

Held up in his party’s headquarters, Sokha attacked Prime Minister Hun Sen (who has been in power for 30 years) for applying a "double standard " to prosecute opposition members.

“Not only does this affect the legitimacy of the election, but it is an attack on democracy,” the embattled opposition leader said.

The 2013 election saw the CNRP win 44 per cent of the vote, with 55 Members of Parliament versus 68 for the ruling party.

Under normal conditions, the opposition leader can benefit from immunity granted to MPs. This can only be lifted by a two-third majority in Parliament, which does not currently exist.

The CPP has, however, invoked on a constitutional provision according to which immunity can be removed without a parliamentary vote if the MP is caught in flagrante delicto.

The lawyers of the opposition leader have appealed the sentence. When the appeal is rejected, as it seems likely, Sokha could be arrested at any time.

This case is the third legal attack in a few weeks against opposition leaders.

In August, President Hun Sen denounced exiled CNRP president Rainsy for calling the killing of Kem Ley, a well-known political scientist, on 10 July in Phnom Penh, "an act of state terrorism".

In June, the government convicted CNRP three activists to seven years in prison.