Mu Sochua on Friday morning quietly returned from her high-profile visit to the US, avoiding a gathering of reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport.
The opposition SRP lawmaker arrived in Cambodia just before noon and exited through the airport’s VIP terminal rather than the regular arrivals gate, where about a dozen journalists waited with questions about her testimony before a human rights panel of the US Congress.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday evening that he too had not spoken to Ms Sochua since her return.
At a Congressional hearing in Washington on Sept 10, Ms Sochua spoke about what she described as deteriorating respect for human rights in Cambodia. In conversations since then, she has expressed concerns about her safety on returning to Cambodia.
Four days after her testimony, Prime Minister Hun Sen gave a speech in which he said unnamed persons who travel abroad to tell “lies” may be sent to “hell.”
Mr Sovann had said on Sept 14 that he would be “very” concerned for Ms Sochua’s safety on her return. However he said Friday that the opposition party is not worried about Ms Sochua’s security.
“The party is not concerned,” he said. “Anything that happens is the responsibility of the government, because we did nothing wrong. We are innocent.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith also said yesterday that he was not aware Ms Sochua had returned. He added that she had no reason to fear for her safety.
“Has there been a threat against her? She tries to dramatize everything to support herself as a sort of Cambodian Aung San Suu Kyi, but there is no threat,” he said.
Licadho founder Kek Pung and Moeun Tola, a labor advocate at the Community Legal Education Center, gave testimony alongside Ms Sochua before the panel of lawmakers. Ms Pung returned to Cambodia on Sept 15, and said yesterday that she has had “no problems at all” since then. Ms Pung added that she had no concerns for her own safety.
“The government is mad at us, but it’s not the first time,” she said.
Ms Pung stressed, however, that her position is slightly different from Ms Sochua’s.
“Many people think that we are the opposition. That is a big misunderstanding. We are not with the opposition; we were invited as members of civil society,” she said.
On the day Ms Pung returned to Phnom Penh, two lawmakers representing the US state of Virginia in the lower chamber of the US legislature—Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia, co-chairman of its human rights commission, and commission member James Moran—wrote to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh asking that it “monitor the fate and keep the members of Congress informed” of the three Cambodians.
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson has said that the embassy received the letter, and is monitoring the situation. He said on Friday that the embassy had no further comment about Ms Sochua, who also returns to continue her appeal against an August defamation conviction involving Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The SRP on Friday distributed to the media copies of an Appeal Court summons calling Ms Sochua to appear for additional questioning at 2:30 pm on Oct 2. Ms Sochua is appealing her Aug 4 conviction for criminal defamation in which the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found that she had defamed Hun Sen by suing him for defamation.