Foreign Minister Responds to Ban Ki-moon

After initially refusing to comment on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s surprise telephone call to Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn last week, the ministry has released Mr. Sokhonn’s purported replies, all defending the government’s latest crackdown on the opposition.

On Thursday, the U.N. revealed that Mr. Ban had called the foreign minister a few days earlier and “expressed his concerns” about what he called the widespread intimidation, harassment and arrests of opposition members, rights workers and the media. It said the secretary-general urged the government to revive the “culture of dialogue” the ruling CPP forged with the CNRP in the wake of 2013’s bitterly disputed national election.

A ministry spokesman had refused to discuss the call. On Friday evening, however, the ministry released what it claims to be Mr. Sokhonn’s verbatim replies to the U.N. chief, all touching on old CPP tropes.

According to the statement, the minister rejected any suggestion that the government’s intense investigation of a sex scandal involving CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha was a politically motivated attack.

Having ignored two summonses to appear as a witness in prostitution claims facing his alleged mistress, Mr. Sokha had no right to claim the legal immunity guaranteed lawmakers by the Constitution, Mr. Sokhonn explained.

“When he did not provide clarification, he committed a flagrant criminal offense,” he was quoted as telling the secretary-general. “This is the court’s action. It is done the same in any country. With lawsuits, the court has to take action. If there is a crime, the court has to convict.”

The Constitution allows for the arrest of lawmakers if their crimes are “in flagrante delicto,” or caught in the act. But the opposition and some legal experts say the government is misusing the exception.

As for a return to the so-called culture of dialogue, the minister reportedly told Mr. Ban that its breakdown was squarely the fault of the opposition for having “created distrust, anger and division.”

He said the government had also reformed the National Election Committee (NEC) to ensure free and fair elections, despite claims that part of the government’s recent offensive is meant to get rid of independent and opposition-aligned figures on the election commission.

NEC deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya, a former top officer at rights group Adhoc, was arrested in April along with four current Adhoc employees and charged with bribing Mr. Sokha’s alleged mistress to deny the affair. In May, the courts revived a 2014 intentional violence charge against former union leader Rong Chhun, one of the opposition’s four appointees to the nine-member NEC.

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