Kem Sokha Promises Political Tolerance to Cham Muslims

CNRP President Kem Sokha has promised opposition supporters among the Cham Muslim community that any government he leads would put an end to political harassment from the community’s pro-CPP leaders, whom he claimed pressured followers not to join his party.

“Because of political things, because you joined the opposition party, they discriminated against you, didn’t they?” he asked an audience of Cham opposition supporters gathered at party headquarters in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to celebrate Ramadan.

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Kem Sokha celebrates Ramadan at CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh on Monday, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.

“You believe the religious leaders in each area, in each mosque, but sometimes can’t depend on them,” he said. “They know what is wrong and what is right but because of political influence, they cannot do something better according to God’s preaching and teaching.”

Mr. Sokha said supporters were scared they would be ostracized if their leaders learned of their political leanings, and promised an end to the practice when—not if—the opposition won next year’s election.

“You will have full freedom, brothers and sisters, please believe,” he said. “There won’t be monitoring, there won’t be leaders to observe you—no one to record your names.”

“I am a human rights defender—I love freedom,” he said. “I want freedom for Cham Muslims when the CNRP leads the government.”

Senior Cham Muslim leaders have deep ties to the ruling party, whose sweep to power put an end to what some scholars have termed genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Prime Minister Hun Sen regularly reminds the community of the relative tolerance they enjoy under his government, and has likened opposition calls for change to the rhetoric used by Pol Pot’s clique.

But there have also been murmurs of discontent among some Cham Muslims in Phnom Penh who are upset over a proposed state road slicing close to the country’s largest mosque.

Ahmad Yahya, a prominent Cham Muslim who is also secretary of state at the Social Affairs Ministry, declined to comment on the speech, while Sos Kimri, president of the Supreme Muslim Leaders, could not be reached for comment.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan denied Mr. Sokha’s claims of discrimination against Cham opposition supporters.

“He twisted the situation,” Mr. Eysan said. “If there is discrimination, could Cham Muslims have joined him?”

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