Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Sunday blasted a new initiative by Prime Minister Hun Sen to rearrest criminals and suspects as a judicial “coup d’etat.”
“The order by Hun Sen…to rearrest alleged criminals previously arrested by the police and released by the court is nothing less than a coup d’etat,” Sam Rainsy said in a statement.
“As head of the executive branch of the government, Hun Sen has no right to overrule any decision by the court and even less to take control of the judiciary whose independence is guaranteed by the Constitution,” he added.
Meanwhile, the police sweeps continued. Officials reported Sunday that police had rearrested over the weekend 31 of 66 criminals or suspects Governor Chea Sophara claimed last week were released by corrupt municipal court officials.
Five of those rearrested said in interviews Sunday that bribes had been paid to court officials for their release.
Hun Sen issued the rearrest directive Friday, citing corrupt court officials’ abuse of judicial independence. The directive came on the heels of Chea Sophara’s allegations against municipal court officials. Court officials have denied wrongdoing.
A human rights worker said Sunday while the initiative may be popular it may not be legal.
“Law is law…you need a warrant even if we know this person is a criminal. The rearrest, there is no warrant…it isn’t legal,” said the rights worker.
Sam Rainsy maintained that “by resorting to a coup d’etat and not following legal process, strongman and wild man Hun Sen is making necessary reforms more difficult to implement by his senseless and demagogic move.”
But Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, said Sunday the 66 cases identified by Chea Sophara will help authorities identify corrupt officials and therefore lead to court reform.
“We are going after the 66 and when we rearrest them we will know which people were corrupt and which officials received bribes,” said Khieu Sopheak, adding the initiative has wide support.
“The only people who do not welcome this are corrupt court officials and those who bribe court officials at liberty,” Khieu Sopheak said.
Of five rearrested individuals interviewed Sunday, all five said they had paid bribes in exchange for their freedom. Chea Sophara helped arrange interviews with two of the five.
Hang Mom, 26, arrested last year for allegedly owning a brothel, said at Russei Keo district police station Sunday that a relative paid $1,200 to two court officials to have the case dropped.
Hum Ly, 22, convicted for drug possession, said a relative paid court officials to organize his release from prison.
Two men convicted on charges of armed robbery and one man convicted for receiving stolen goods said at Tuol Kok district police station that bribes paid to court officials had secured their release from prison.
According to Chea Sophara, the 31 suspects rearrested in weekend sweeps by police are providing details of the deals done with court officials to escape prison sentences.
Information compiled on those rearrested will be sent to the five-member legal committee organized last week by Minister of Justice Uk Vithun to investigate court corruption, Chea Sophara said. (Additional reporting by Kelly McEvers)