The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summonsed opposition leader Kem Sokha to appear for questioning later this week about claims he allegedly made that Vietnam had fabricated crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng prison.
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) spokesman Yem Ponhearith said Sunday that a court officer attempted to deliver the summons to Mr. Sokha, who is currently in Australia, at CNRP headquarters on Friday, but that party staff refused to take it.
“The court issued the summons to invite His Excellency Kem Sokha to appear at the court on Thursday. It involved the Chum Mey lawsuit,” he said, referring to one of the plaintiffs in the case. “Our officials refused to take it because His Excellency the president [Mr. Sokha] did not tell us to accept it. They did not dare to take it because it is a personal summons.”
The summons comes just over a month before Mr. Sokha is to lead his party against the ruling CPP in the national election, scheduled for July 28.
Mr. Mey and three fellow Tuol Sleng survivors filed a lawsuit with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court earlier this month accusing Mr. Sokha of defamation for his remarks and demanding $1,000 in damages. Mr. Sokha has denied making the Tuol Sleng claims and accused the government of doctoring the audio recording that sparked the controversy last month.
Mr. Ponhearith said Mr. Sokha was set to return to Cambodia on Tuesday and that the summons was merely designed to disrupt the party’s campaign plans in the few weeks remaining before the national vote.
“We have only 30 days for the election campaign,” he said. “The summons affects the campaign because we have already set the campaign schedule.”
By law, the court is required to make a second attempt at summonsing Mr. Sokha before it can issue an arrest warrant.
Asked if Mr. Sokha had any intention of appearing in court, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann replied: “No, he is busy with the campaign.”
If authorities tried detaining Mr. Sokha to force his appearance, Mr. Sovann said the party’s supporters would rise up.
“What happens if you try to politically detain our leader?” he said. “We have millions of supporters. [Will] they agree? I don’t think so. They will do something.”
Municipal court clerk Phal Rachna confirmed that a summons for Mr. Sokha had been issued. Deputy court prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth, who is handling the case, declined to comment.
Mr. Mey said Sunday that he has been summonsed for questioning today and that he would bring the audio recording of Mr. Sokha with him as evidence.
“We are very happy that the court summonsed Kem Sokha,” he said.
Mr. Mey’s lawyer, Kouy Thunna, said all four of the plaintiffs would be questioned throughout the day.
Though Mr. Mey has denied any backing from the government, it was the government that released the audio recording of Mr. Sokha. Local authorities in Phnom Penh also provided everything from transportation to food and protest banners when some 10,000 people heeded Mr. Mey’s call for a demonstration against Mr. Sokha earlier this month. Prime Minister Hun Sen personally urged Cambodians to attend the demonstration.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)