Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday launched an attack on the CNRP, criticizing the opposition for holding a prayer ceremony over the weekend and for its alleged “contempt” for the king in submitting petitions with duplicate thumbprints.
The CNRP held a ceremony in Siem Reap City on Sunday to pray for a cooler political climate in the country after months of arrests of government critics and unfulfilled threats to put deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha behind bars.
“I send the message that it’s not essential to pray,” Mr. Hun Sen said on Monday at a graduation ceremony at the Royal School of Administration in Phnom Penh.
He offered a simpler strategy for the CNRP to avoid trouble: “If you do not commit any wrongs, you will never be in jail.”
“If you commit wrongdoing under the law, even if you go to pray at the Preah Ang Dangkeu, Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Cham, Preah Vihear temple, Angkor Wat, or any other temple, or the heaven of the gods, you will still be imprisoned,” Mr. Hun Sen added.
He then shifted focus, appearing to attack Mr. Sokha for failing to turn up when summoned as a witness in a case accusing his alleged mistress of prostitution. The CNRP has said that Mr. Sokha’s parliamentary immunity precludes him from answering such summonses.
“If you went for questioning, that’s it,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “They would have let you go back; nobody would arrest you. But you turned a small issue into a big story because of the novice lawyers who didn’t read Article 538.”
Article 538 of the Criminal Code refers to the crime of “refusal to appear” in court, and stipulates a prison sentence of one to six months for those who break the law. Mr. Sokha has also refused to appear in court for questioning on provisional charges that he violated this law.
Mr. Hun Sen then brought up criticism of his orders to the Interior Ministry to investigate the 170,000 thumbprints collected on a CNRP petition asking the king to intervene to end a wave of political repression. Mr. Hun Sen said evidence of fraud was now emerging.
“The issue of thumbprints has not been cleared. There was one person with 82 thumbprints [next to different names], so this is serious contempt for the king, and cheating of the people,” he said.
The comments mirrored those of Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, who said in an interview with the Fresh News service last week that there were 86 cases of duplicate thumbprints.
“I must fulfill my obligations in the role of prime minister to not allow anyone to cheat the king,” Mr. Hun Sen said on Monday. “Please, diplomats, do not say Hun Sen is using the judicial system as a solution. If the law is not applied, what weapons will be used?”
Outside the CNRP’s headquarters in the morning, senior lawmaker Pol Ham said the party was not concerned about the CPP’s threats. He said the government should do what it likes, including a search for those responsible for the thumbprints, if it was confident of wrongdoing.
“It’s the Interior Ministry who has the ability to examine this, so why can’t they find them by themselves. Please go by yourself,” Mr. Ham said.
Asked if there would be any arrests over the duplicate thumbprints, Gen. Sopheak, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said the CNRP could sleep tight if it was confident its members did nothing wrong.
“Don’t worry!” he said. “The jails are always open only for those who do things illegally. So if nobody made any mistakes, you don’t have to worry.”
(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)