Opposition Announces Then Cancels Plans for Another March

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann on Sunday publicly announced—but then appeared to cancel—plans for another march across Phnom Penh next week calling for the king’s intervention to end the CPP’s spate of repression against its critics.

The CNRP last week delivered a petition to King Norodom Sihamoni asking for help, after months of legal attacks against the party culminated in provisional charges being laid against deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, as well as an effort to arrest him.

“Together on June 13, 2016, we will collect the petitions to deliver to the king that day. In the morning, we will collect the petitions, and in the afternoon we will march them,” Mr. Sovann said, speaking outside the CNRP’s headquarters, where Mr. Sokha has been holed up since May 26.

“Who will be the ones doing the petitions? It’s not the CNRP, it’s the people. The people are the ones who collect them. On May 30, we already brought them [to the king], but they claimed it was suspicious,” the spokesman said.

“Let’s not make it difficult. Let’s put them on tables at Freedom Park and put the thumbprints out there to see whether they are real or not.”

Reached by telephone in the afternoon, however, Mr. Sovann said he had misspoken and that the CNRP did not in fact have plans for a march on June 13.

“I wish to correct this information,” he said. “On June 13, we will wait to receive the petitions from the people from the provinces, and we have not decided on a specific date yet” to deliver them.

Mr. Sovann had said in his speech that next week’s petition would call on King Norodom Sihamoni to help protect lawmakers’ constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Currently, opposition lawmaker Um Sam An and Senator Hong Sok Hour are in prison, in spite of their immunity, while Mr. Sokha has been provisionally charged with failing to turn up in court and has had his arrest approved by the CPP’s 68 lawmakers.

Since the last election, the government has employed a novel and broad interpretation of an exception clause in the article in the Constitution that provides immunity. The provision allows lawmakers to be arrested if they are caught in the act of committing a crime.

“This petition is to protect the immunity of all 123 lawmakers and also the senator. It’s not only our 55 seats—it’s all 123. If we do not protect it, during the next mandate they will still do this,” Mr. Sovann said.

City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said authorities would wait to receive an official letter from the CNRP about the march before deciding whether police would try to stop it.

“We haven’t received this information yet,” he said. “It will depend on the situation…. We will consider what their march will be—how many people will join and what is the purpose.”

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