CNRP Will Not Protest at Meach Sovannara Trial

The opposition CNRP will neither protest at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday nor send any senior officials there to oppose the scheduled hearing of 11 of its members who stand charged with “insurrection,” opposition spokesman Yem Ponhearith said Thursday.

The seemingly spurious charges were laid last year against CNRP official Meach Sovannara and 10 other party activists over their presence at a July 15 protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park that turned violent, and led to similar charges being laid against seven CNRP lawmakers.

CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha waves to supporters outside Phnom Penh International Airport upon returning to Cambodia Wednesday night, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.
CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha waves to supporters outside Phnom Penh International Airport upon returning to Cambodia Wednesday night, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.

Mr. Sovannara, who holds U.S. citizenship, and four other activists have been jailed since last year.

Opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha say the arrests were made to pressure the CNRP in recent electoral reform talks, but Prime Minister Hun Sen has denied the link and also threatened to arrest Mr. Sokha if he leads protests to free Mr. Sovannara.

Mr. Ponhearith said that no such protests will be held at the court, and that both he and Mr. Sokha will be too busy with a meeting of the National Assembly’s standing committee to open nominations for the new National Election Committee (NEC).

“For this case, the defense lawyers will be responsible for the trial to help the activists who have been charged with crimes they are innocent of,” he said.

“We have no plans and I don’t know anything about this, but if there are some members of the general population, that is their right.”

Political analyst Sok Touch said the CNRP’s recent reticence to protest the jailing of its officials stems from a desire not to provoke the ruling CPP while reforms such as the new NEC remain to be enacted.

The opposition would rather let lower-ranking officials remain in prison than threaten the materialization of the electoral reforms it desires, he said.

“There are two reasons the opposition is keeping quiet. Firstly, because their lawmakers now have immunity, which is a strong shield protecting them,” said Mr. Touch.

“Secondly, it’s the matter of the recent establishment of the minority and the majority group at the National Assembly, in which the two parties’ leaders use a culture of dialogue to meet and solve issues,” he added. “So, if the opposition were to stage a protest, it would affect that culture of dialogue.”

Mr. Sokha returned from a trip to the U.S. late Wednesday and declined to comment on the threats of arrest from Mr. Hun Sen.

“I am not interested in commenting on that,” Mr. Sokha told reporters at the Phnom Penh International Airport.

“I am thinking only about the future, and I had discussions with [CNRP] President Sam Rainsy and we are going to select and prepare our NEC candidates,” he said. “That is the main thing.”

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