Hun Sen Says Sokha Will Be in Prison ‘Forever’

Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at CNRP Vice President Kem So­kha and Phnom Penh’s foreign diplomatic corps on Wednesday, threatening to imprison Mr. Sokha “forever” and warning diplomats not to get too close to the opposition or risk relations with Cambodia.

Speaking at the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the general department of customs and excise in Phnom Penh, Mr. Hun Sen bemoaned Mr. Sokha’s comment in a Reuters article published on Saturday that Mr. Hun Sen was targeting him because he feared “defeat in the election.”

Kem Sokha, acting leader of the CNRP, arrives to visit fellow party members at Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in February. (Reuters)
Kem Sokha, acting leader of the CNRP, arrives to visit fellow party members at Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in February. (Reuters)

Mr. Sokha has been ensconced in the opposition party’s headquarters in the capital since police tried to arrest him there more than a month ago for not turning up for questioning about his alleged mistress, who has been accused of prostitution. The prime minister said he ought to be more careful with his words.

“This scoundrel is scared and does not dare to come downstairs be­cause he is scared of being arrested, but instead he says that Hun Sen is scared,” Mr. Hun Sen added, goading Mr. Sokha to face his arrest.

“Hey, guy who is in the square place, come out,” he said, referencing a previous comment he made about Mr. Sokha’s small quarters. “I want to send you the message that you will be imprisoned forever. Don’t be aggressive, prisoner.”

Authorities have not tried to arrest Mr. Sokha since the May 26 attempt, with CNRP lawmakers, officials and supporters keeping vigil at the front of the building to avert any further attempts. The party has warned of mass protests if he is detained.

The threats appeared to cause the government to back down and leave Mr. Sokha alone, with Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu So­pheak saying earlier this month that police might ignore an arrest warrant for Mr. Sokha if enforcing it would lead to chaos.

However, Mr. Hun Sen warned Mr. Sokha in his speech not to gain too much confidence from authorities’ lack of action so far and said there was no doubt he would be imprisoned.

“When the time comes, it will be done,” Mr. Hun Sen said, before adding: “If you don’t go to prison, the prison will come to you.”

“And you should not make threats to hold demonstrations,” he said. “A thorn will be used to remove the thorn.”

The prime minister then turned his attention to the diplomatic corps, warning them to not just listen to Mr. Sokha’s side in assessing the case against him.

Over the past few weeks, the ambassadors of the U.S., E.U., France and Canada have visited Mr. Sokha in his headquarters—moves widely interpreted as a show of support.

On Wednesday morning, outgoing Swedish Ambassador Anna Maj Hultgard also visited Mr. Sokha, posing for the customary photograph of a smiling handshake that the CNRP has distributed after each of the meetings.

Along with visiting Mr. So­kha, the E.U. has released the most strongly worded statements in support of a healthy opposition in Cambodia, and Mr. Hun Sen singled out the delegation for paying too much attention to the CNRP.

“I have asked the E.U. to do a reform. Reform what? They need to reform their information gathering, because the E.U. always receives unclear information,” Mr. Hun Sen said, adding that many diplomats seemed confused about Mr. So­kha’s case.

“Every diplomat and person, I clarify again: Do not take a personal issue to become a political issue between a party and a party,” he said.

“I don’t want every diplomat to be­come a parrot, speaking after the opposition party,” he said, warning that gathering information from both sides was “the way to maintain a heal­thy relationship” with Cambodia.

“And don’t use this stuff called ‘aid’ to scorn and threaten Cambodia,” the prime minister added.

The E.U. mission in Phnom Penh did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman said that the embassy routinely reached out to both major political parties in Cambodia and supported neither.

“Like all U.S. Embassies, we engage on a regular basis with a wide range of contacts, including members of the government and opposition,” Mr. Raman said in an email. “The United States does not support one political party over another.”

Ms. Hultgard, the outgoing Swe­d­ish ambassador, said in an email after her visit to Mr. Sokha that it was part of the embassy’s usual efforts to obtain information from all sides of Cambodian politics.

“The specific visit today was part of my rounds of farewell as I do with many actors from all spheres of the society. It also served the purpose to update on and discuss the current political situation,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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