Jailed Opposition Members Quit Over New Law

Three jailed opposition members handed in their resignations this week in response to a legal amendment that could result in the government dissolving political rivals over the crimes of their leaders.

CNRP members Meach Sovannara and Um Sam An, who are both serving lengthy jail terms on charges widely perceived to be politically motivated, cited “personal reasons” in their Thursday resignation letters sent to the CNRP’s Secretary General, said Pol Ham, chairman of the party’s steering committee.

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Meach Sovannara, the imprisoned head of the CNRP’s information department, gestures at supporters as he is escorted out of the courthouse following a hearing at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh on August last year in the insurrection case against him and 10 other opposition activists and officials. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

No further details on their reasons for stepping down were given, he said.

A message posted with Mr. Sovannara’s resignation letter on his Facebook page on Friday, however, said the decision was a result of the new law, which could see parties dissolved if they violate one of a list of new, vaguely worded offenses.

“The political prisoners resigned from positions to avoid the party being affected,” the post said.

The post highlighted an article in the law which states that “the president, vice president and members of Steering Committee who have been found guilty are not authorized to their roles in the party.”

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Opposition senator Hong Sok Hour is escorted from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2015 after the first day of his trial on incitement and forgery charges. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Sovannara is serving a 20-year jail sentence after being convicted of insurrection for his involvement in a 2014 protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park. Mr. Sam An was sentenced to more than two years in prison last year over Facebook posts critical of the government’s demarcation of the border with Vietnam.

Opposition senator Hong Sok Hour, who was jailed in August on the prime minister’s orders after an online video showed him presenting a forged diplomatic treaty with Vietnam, also stood down on Thursday, said Teav Vannol, a senator and acting president of Sam Rainsy Party.

Mr. Sok Hour also cited the new amendment and the risk it posed the party, which merged with the Human Rights Party to form the CNRP in 2012, but still holds seats in the Senate, Mr. Vannol said.

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Um Sam An is escorted from the Supreme Court in September last year. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“They have a reason to go after the Sam Rainsy Party because Hong Sok Hour right now is in the prison. That’s the reason why he resigned,” he said.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan denied that the resignations were responses to the new law, and said they were politically motivated efforts to seek the public’s pity and make “criminals and convicts” appear to be victims.

“The reasons of resignation is due to ‘personal issues,’ which means there’s no pressure from outside,” he said. “Their resignation can be a CNRP political trick after a series of [electoral] failures by using populism.”

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