Fugitive Senator Waiting for Political ‘Agreement’ to Come Home

In an interview from France, fugitive opposition Senator Thak Lany on Monday confirmed she had been granted political asylum in Sweden and said she would not return to Cambodia until the ruling CPP and opposition strike a deal that wipes away the “political” convictions against her and her colleagues.

Ms. Lany, a senator for the legacy Sam Rainsy Party, was convicted in absentia last week of defamation and incitement over a video clip that appears to show her accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of ordering the July 10 assassination of popular political analyst Kem Ley. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison, the fifth opposition lawmaker to be handed prison time in the past year.

Chhun Bun San, the husband of Senator Thak Lany, speaks with reporters outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Chhun Bun San, the husband of Senator Thak Lany, speaks with reporters outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The senator’s party and lawyer had kept her whereabouts a secret since news of the lawsuit broke in early August. Her husband, Chhun Bun San, finally revealed on Thursday that Ms. Lany had fled to Sweden. The country’s Migration Agency confirmed that she had been granted residence on September 2.

Contacted on Monday by telephone, Ms. Lany stood by her claim that the video clip used to convict her had been doctored.

“The court sentence is very unjust because I did not say that Hun Sen killed Mr. Kem Ley. They took the recording and edited it because I did not say that,” she said.

“I went to Sweden because I did not want to face the sentence, because the court is not just and I don’t believe the court can give me justice,” she added.

Ms. Lany said she had left Cambodia through the Poipet City checkpoint before she was aware she was being sued while on her way to the U.S. for medical reasons. Once in Thailand and upon hearing of the lawsuit, she said, the local office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees arranged her trip to Sweden. The U.N. has declined to confirm or deny its involvement, citing agency policy.

The senator accused the Cambodian government of waging a politically motivated legal assault on the opposition.

“They are threatening the opposition ahead of the elections because the people now understand who is right and who is wrong,” she said. “When the parties make an agreement with each other and the political situation is stable again, I will go back to Cambodia.”

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued an arrest warrant for the senator along with its verdict last week. But the Interior Ministry says it has little interest in seeking her extradition from abroad, as Sweden was unlikely to comply.

Ms. Lany said she was currently in France and headed to Canada and Australia on a mission to spread the opposition party gospel to the Cambodian diaspora.

While in France, she said she also met with CNRP President Sam Rainsy. The opposition leader, a dual French-Cambodian citizen, faces a raft of lawsuits from the Cambodian government himself and has been living in exile since last year.

The senator had one final message for her fellow citizens back home.

“Please go to register for the elections,” she said.

The registration period for next year’s commune elections ends in a week.

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