Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday threatened to use force against the CNRP if it embarks on mass demonstrations being planned by deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Mr. Sokha was sentenced on Friday to five months in jail for refusing to appear in court for questioning over a “prostitution” case involving an alleged mistress, a case widely thought to be politically motivated. In reaction, opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Mr. Sokha, who has not been arrested, delivered speeches on Sunday calling for supporters to prepare for street protests.
In a statement released on Monday, the party said the CNRP’s permanent committee, overseen by Mr. Sokha, had decided “to hold a mass and non-violent demonstration in the near future, aiming to demand for the return of a normal political environment in order to ensure free and fair elections through a joint political resolution.”
The opposition would “create a committee to study and prepare a plan for a mass demonstration,” the statement said.
About an hour after the CNRP statement was released, an interview with Prime Minister Hun Sen was uploaded to the CPP-aligned Fresh News website in which he warned that the opposition would not be permitted to hold mass protests.
“Two days ago, the Cambodia National Rescue Party threatened the Royal Government and the stability of the country. It’s time to give feedback that we do not allow this,” Mr. Hun Sen was quoted as saying.
“There is not any resolution that can be found besides the court. The court system will convict the people who made the mistake and please don’t become confused that the Royal Government does not have right to use the force of authorities to defend the peace of the nation and happiness of the people,” he said.
“The Royal Government wishes to warn anyone who made a mistake, please do not continue the mistake. If not, it will bring a bad result for you.”
The CNRP’s last campaign of mass demonstrations came in the wake of the disputed 2013 national election. The protests ground to a halt in January 2014 when military police opened fire on protesting garment workers, killing at least five, and security forces violently cleared Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, which had been the base of opposition protests.
Ever since, the government has taken varying positions on the legality of public protests, allowing pro-government demonstrators to do as they please while often cracking down on gatherings it does not approve of. Although protest organizers are only legally required to notify authorities of their plans, the government has insisted that it has the right to decide whether demonstrations may go ahead.
Even Mr. Hun Sen has previously acknowledged that the CNRP has the right to demonstrate, threatening even bigger counter-demonstrations by the CPP.
However, ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan, contacted after Mr. Hun Sen’s interview was published on Monday, said the opposition would not be permitted to hold demonstrations under any circumstances.
Mr. Hun Sen “totally does not allow any demonstrations, no matter if it is small, big or medium,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Ben Sokhean and Ouch Sony)