Threats, Guns Enter Crusade Against Kem Sokha

With the prime minister remaining silent over claims that he offered $1 million to a young political activist who has led campaigns against acting CNRP President Kem Sokha, her associate over the weekend appeared to introduce violent threats to their crusade.

Thy Sovantha, who rose to prominence as a teenage social media activist supporting the CNRP during the 2013 election campaign, turned her back on the party earlier this year amid allegations that Mr. Sokha had an extramarital affair. Along with CPP-aligned provocateur Srey Chamroeun, she has led a campaign calling for Mr. Sokha to come clean or leave politics.

cam photo sovantha KHMER
Photographs of Thy Sovantha shooting and pointing to guns, shared on the Facebook page of fellow CPP activist Srey Chamroeun.

In a conversation posted to Ms. Sovantha’s Facebook page late last month, a man referred to as “grandpa” promised to give $1 million to “grandchild” to be delivered by “uncle Ho Sothy,” the name of Mr. Hun Sen’s Cabinet chief. The other contents of the conversation—talk of dividing the CNRP’s leadership and access to a pond belonging to Mr. Hun Sen’s bodyguard chief—fueled speculation that the messages sent through the Line smartphone app were between the prime minister and the young social media star.

Although Mr. Hun Sen has proven to be highly sensitive to damaging claims about him spread on social media, he has said nothing in the past week about the alleged leak. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Friday again raised the issue in a tweet along with a screenshot of the message promising $1 million.

“CNRP’s Seang Chet sentenced to 5 years for alleged $500 bribe,” he wrote of an opposition commune chief caught up in a legal case against Mr. Sokha. “#HunSen $1M for Facebook star Thy Sovantha to try to break CNRP #SamRainsy.”

On Thursday, threats against Mr. Sokha began appearing on the Facebook page of Mr. Chamroeun, an associate of Ms. Sovantha. The posts include photographs of guns—and Ms. Sovantha shooting them—along with warnings.

“I will hold demonstrations to demand that Kem Sokha apologizes to Thy Sovantha publicly. If not?????” said a message posted on Thursday along with photos of Ms. Sovantha doing target practice with a pistol.

“Kem Sokha be careful!!!!!!” said another post on Friday along with photographs of rifles, pistols and ammunition apparently laid out on a bed.

Ms. Sovantha is threatening to sue Mr. Sokha if he doesn’t apologize for claims he allegedly made about her, despite his comments being made in a private conversation that many believe was illegally recorded.

Ms. Sovantha could not be reached, and did not respond to Facebook messages seeking comment. A message was posted to her Facebook page on Sunday telling people not to believe everything being said about her and Mr. Chamroeun, who also declined to comment on the threatening posts when reached by telephone.

Mr. Rainsy said on Sunday that the various social media posts symbolized Prime Minister Hun Sen’s style of governance.

“Hun Sen embodies double standard in a lawless country where the government only rules by threats and bribes,” he said in an email, adding that it would be useless to take up the issue with Cambodian authorities.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantarith said he was not aware of the threats against Mr. Sokha.

“Normally, with threats or something against the law, our authorities always check,” he said, declining to specify whether police would look into the posts on Mr. Chamroeun’s page.

The country’s anti-corruption czar, Om Yentieng, who led investigations into the alleged recordings of Mr. Sokha because they included promises of monetary and material gifts to mistresses, has already said he had no plans to look into accusations that Mr. Hun Sen promised $1 million to a political operative.

Speaking to reporters at the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) in Phnom Penh on Friday, Mr. Yentieng again reiterated that the matter would not be investigated, and threatened reporters who continued to draw parallels with the probe into Mr. Sokha.

“Why does everybody still ask ‘Why do I always investigate their sex scandal case?’ It’s very unjust for me,’” he said, explaining that the ACU had only arrested people over bribery charges, which happened to be related to the sex scandal.

“But my head does not ache. If you do not provide justice for me, next time you will not receive justice also,” he told reporters.

“So, that leak case is not involved with my unit,” he said.

The messages posted to Ms. Sovantha’s Facebook page, which were taken down, but not before they spread elsewhere on social media, appear to show a quid-pro-quo with money being promised in exchange for protests against the opposition leaders.

“In the past, I wanted to break apart Sam Rainsy from Kem Sokha in 2018, but I see grandpa has deposed Kem Sokha. I see many more chances to break the two of them apart,” a message allegedly from Ms. Sovantha says.

“Now there are many chances,” the reply reads. “Grandchild can push this work before the deadline. This is the reason I want grandchild to take this money to keep in your hands.”

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