Sam Rainsy, the acting president of Cambodia’s banned opposition party slammed Phnom Penh Tuesday for refusing to allow exiled opposition officials into the country to defend themselves against treason and incitement charges in their own trials.
Sam Rainsy, who has lived in self-imposed exile since late 2015, tried to return in Nov. 2019, but his plan to enter Cambodia from Thailand was thwarted when he was refused permission to board a Thai Airways plane in Paris.
The first mass trial for former lawmakers, members, or supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) began last week with 59 of an estimated 136 defendants facing what could be 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 4 million Cambodian riels (U.S. $ 990), for their alleged role in Sam Rainsy’s failed plan to return to Cambodia.
Some of the defendants on trial, however, have not been allowed to return to Cambodia to defend themselves against treason and incitement charges.
On Saturday CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua and fellow party leaders and activists were unable to board a Singapore Airlines flight to Phnom Penh from Los Angeles, while another CNRP official was denied boarding a flight from Paris to Singapore. The airline said they cannot board passengers without destination country visas.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said Saturday that Mu Sochua “is not an ordinary citizen. She is among rebels against the rule of law” and suggested she should be extradited to face trial
Phnom Penh had cancelled the Cambodian passports of the exiles and its diplomatic offices have refused to issue visas for those, like Mu Sochua, who hold citizenship in other countries.
“We are showing our commitment that we need to return. But the government, which has all the power, is afraid and won’t allow us to return. They want to arrest us, but they are blocking us from going back,” Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“The international community knows that the government is afraid of Sam Rainsy’s shadow… Hun Sen is a coward and a dictator. He is afraid. He is weak. People want change so he does not want us to return. But the people understand there will be more pressure from the international community.”
Sam Rainsy also called for the government to reinstate the CNRP, which has been banned since 2017, and said the party would not participate in the 2022 and 2023 elections unless this occurs.
He also rebuked Kem Monovithya, the daughter of CNRP President Kem Sokha, who recently posted a message on Twitter saying her father intends to lead an opposition party to contest the upcoming elections. The tweet was later deleted after causing an uproar in the CNRP.
“We don’t value those who speak on behalf of Kem Sokha when he has no freedom,” Sam Rainsy said.
“Kem Sokha did not make the announcement. Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy are one person. We will have one stance. We don’t allow anyone speak on our behalf, and we both don’t agree with the government that dissolved our party,” he said.
Sam Rainsy said that splitting from the CNRP to lead a new opposition party would be playing into the hands of Hun Sen, and that Kem Sokha would never do such a thing because he is loyal to the people.
“The world is changing. It is not up to Hun Sen. A storm of freedom is coming, and this dictatorship will collapse,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.