Prime Minister Hun Sen has dismissed a European Parliament resolution condemning court cases against opposition members, denying that the charges against self-exiled SRP leader Sam Rainsy were politically motivated.
“The Sam Rainsy case is not involved with the democratic context. On the contrary, it is involved with the state of law context,” the prime minister said in a Tuesday letter to National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
“The legal issue of Sam Rainsy started from Sam Rainsy himself conducting a violent policy of incitement to remove Cambodia-Vietnam temporary border markers,” he wrote.
The Oct 21 resolution pointed to the recent criminal convictions of SRP lawmakers Mu Sochua and Mr Rainsy, which drew widespread criticism. Ms Sochua was fined more than $4,000 for defaming the premier last year, while Mr Rainsy was sentenced to 12 years this year on separate charges of activism over the Vietnam border.
Mr Hun Sen said Tuesday that the government considered last month’s European Parliament resolution “short of information and short of contacting the governments of the EU-member countries that have embassies in Cambodia. Therefore, the royal government of the sovereign state of Cambodia has no duty to take measures to follow the EU [resolution].”
Representatives of the European Delegation to Cambodia and the European Parliament were unavailable.
Mr Hun Sen criticized the SRP in Tuesday’s letter for supporting the views of foreigners and for “trying without stop to use all kinds of tricks to block foreign countries from donating to Cambodia, although the international community, including the EU, continue to increase the number of donations year by year.”
In spite of these criticisms, Mr Hun Sen appeared to say Cambodia needed an opposition party—just one of a different ilk than the SRP.
“The Cambodian people and the royal government really need the group that has the opposition tendency that has ability to conduct the balanced policy in the framework of the national assembly and has the same qualities as the opposition parties in EU countries,” he said.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann reiterated his party’s claim yesterday that the case against Mr Rainsy was “politically motivated,” adding that the contention had now been backed by both the EU and the UN.
A September report by the UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi called for an overhaul of the country’s court system, a conclusion that was dismissed by government officials. Among the cases cited were the lifting of the immunity of Ms Sochua, Mr Rainsy and SRP lawmaker Ho Vann in 2009.
“It’s really politically motivated,” Mr Sovann said of the Rainsy case. “Before the government said that we speak alone. Now we don’t speak alone. The EU speak the same language. The UN speak the same language.”
He added that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern at the human rights situation in Cambodia during her visit to Phnom Penh on Monday.
Mr Sovann denied that the SRP always supported the views of foreigners, saying, “We do not owe any country. We are supported by the Cambodian people.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, also said the charges against Mr Rainsy were politically motivated, calling the case a “new low for the Cambodian courts” and “part of a concerted and long-standing campaign against [Mr] Rainsy.”
“What is clear is that [the] sentence will ensure that Sam Rainsy is not in a position to challenge the government in the next elections—which is exactly the point,” Mr Robertson wrote in an e-mail.
He added that Mr Hun Sen’s letter “shows that there continues to be serious sensitivity in the government to critics among donor governments, like the EU.”
Criticism of the case was rejected by Phay Siphan, the spokesman for the Council of Ministers. Mr Siphan said the cases against Mr Rainsy were “based on proof and based on law,” although he acknowledged that the judiciary is in the process of reform.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Mr Rainsy’s convictions had come with a tightening of CPP control in the National Assembly in recent years. He pointed to a lack of opposition members on committees, as well as to a 2008 rule that at least 10 lawmakers must form a group before they can join a debate. The opposition Human Rights Party only has three Assembly members.
“In this mandate…the ruling party has kind of marginalized the opposition,” Mr Panha said.
But Khoam Kosal, chief of Mr Heng Samrin’s Cabinet, said parliamentary rules do not disadvantage the opposition.
“The rules allow them to join but they decline to join,” Mr Kosal said.
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)