Government Kicks Damage Control Into High Gear

The Foreign Affairs Ministry on Thursday released a statement accusing foreign delegations of hypocrisy for criticizing the government’s crackdown on the opposition, even suggesting that they were pretending not to know the law.

The ministry’s statement named no specific delegations but closely reflected the criticism leveled in a statement released by the E.U. on Monday.

The E.U. said its member missions “deeply regret the dangerous political escalation of recent days and call for a halt to the judicial harassment of the acting leader of the opposition and representatives of the civil society organizations.”

A string of rights workers and opposition officials have been arrested over the past few months on charges widely seen as politically motivated. CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha has repeatedly been called to court over an alleged extramarital affair and narrowly evaded arrest last week for ignoring the summonses, despite his constitutionally guaranteed immunity from prosecution.

In its statement on Thursday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said the “amazement and indignation” shown by the foreign delegations were misplaced.

“These reactions reflect the lack of knowledge or the will to pretend not to know the rules,” it said, claiming that other countries had the very same laws and procedures as Cambodia, “especially in those of the European Union.”

It specifically defended the right to “condemn” a witness for giving false testimony and arrest someone for ignoring a summons—both of which have featured in Mr. Sokha’s case. His alleged mistress denied the purported affair under questioning by authorities before later admitting to it. Mr. Sokha has refused to publicly respond to the scandal.

“The allegations of ‘judicial harassment’ against some politicians are absolutely unfounded,” the ministry said, adding that it was “surprised by such interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state that has only carried out the same rules of legal and judicial procedures also in effect in the states which are the origin” of the rebuke.

The statement was part of a flurry of activity by the government on Thursday to counter the bad press being generated by its dogged legal pursuit of opposition lawmakers and critics.

The Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit (PQRU) issued a statement addressing recent news stories comparing the government’s attempt to arrest Mr. Sokha for ignoring his summonses to the impunity with which top CPP officials ignored summonses from the Khmer Rouge tribunal in 2009.

“This strategy of the [CNRP] defense lawyers exploits the law for politics and cheapens the Khmer Rouge tribunal,” the unit said on Thursday.

The unit argued that it was a false comparison because the Cambodian co-investigating judge at the tribunal had refused to endorse the summonses sent by his international counterpart. In fact, the summonses were valid without the Cambodian co-investigating judge’s signature.

Also on Thursday, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana hosted a rare workshop for journalists in Phnom Penh on Thursday to school them on particular points of various laws and statutes.

Though the presenters made no direct reference to the current political tumult, they focused on articles and provisions the recent cases have thrown into the spotlight, especially those dealing with exceptions to legal immunity.

Opposition lawmakers and legal experts have said the government has willfully misused those exceptions to make the recent arrests.

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