Police Photos Link Opposition Lawmaker to ‘Terrorist’ Group

The national police on Tuesday posted images to its website of Son Chhay, an SRP lawmaker and Cambodia National Rescue Party election candidate, meeting with activists in the U.S. that the ruling CPP has accused of plotting to overthrow the government and monarchy.

The series of four photos, which Prime Minister Hun Sen personally ordered the police to post on Monday during a speech, shows Mr. Chhay at an event with Sourn Serey Ratha, president of the Washington-based Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM).

Though the government has repeatedly labeled the KPPM “terrorists” bent on toppling the government, the group has done nothing more that criticize the long rule of Mr. Hun Sen by email and at meetings in the U.S.

The group’s website advocates “changing” the regime of Mr. Hun Sen, but has called itself a “civil political movement” and makes no reference to the use of force to achieve its aims.

Also appearing in the photos posted to the police website is independent radio station owner Mam Sonando, whom the courts sentenced to 20 years in prison for leading a so-called secessionist movement last year, but later released him from prison amid mounting international pressure including the intervention of U.S. President Barack Obama.

In an explanation accompanying the photos, the national police claim that the images are from a series of KPPM events in Canada and the U.S. dating from March to May of 2012.

“At each event, Sourn Serey Ratha strongly attacked the heads of the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Monarchy, for example, he appealed for local and overseas Khmer to stand up and topple the Royal Government of Cambodia,” the photo captions claim.

“Meanwhile, there is the presence of Son Chhay, a lawmaker from the Sam Rainsy Party at those events,” the captions state.

The captions level no specific accusations of wrongdoing against the KPPM or Mr. Chhay. However, the photos appear designed to associate Mr. Chhay with a group that Mr. Hun Sen has previously portrayed as a real threat to his government.

National police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chan­tharith, offered little explanation for the actions of the national police in posting the photographs online.

“That movement is an illegal movement and we can see that Mr. Son Chhay attended events organized by an illegal movement,” he said. “We don’t have any concrete evidence to prove that he is a member of the movement, but he was present with the illegal movement.”

Lt. Gen. Chantharith also declined to explain the KPPM’s alleged offenses either here or in the U.S.

“There are a number of offenses the movement has committed. I will talk about them another day,” he said.

The chief of the national police, Commissioner Neth Savoeun, is married to a niece of Mr. Hun Sen.

Mr. Chhay confirmed Tuesday that the photos showed him attending a KPPM event, but said they were all taken on a single occasion in Toronto about two years ago, not in 2012 as the Interior Ministry claims.

Mr. Chhay also said that he had no idea he was attending a KPPM event, and came to the realization only after showing up to what he thought would be a private meeting requested by Mr. Sonando.

“When I met Mr. Sonando, I was so surprised about the event,” he said. “I sat quietly while that guy [Mr. Serey Ratha] insulted the monarchy, Hun Sen and especially my party’s president, Sam Rainsy.”

Mr. Chhay said he spoke up only to defend Mr. Rainsy.

“After telling the crowd, I refused to take questions and left the forum,” he said.

Mr. Chhay denied any ties to the KPPM and accused the government of attempting to fabricate one out of desperation.

“I think Mr. Hun Sen is scared about losing the election, so he accuses me,” he said.

In calling for the photos to be posted online Monday, without making any specific mention of Mr. Chhay or the KPPM, Mr. Hun Sen repeated his claim that there are opposition party members with links to revolutionary groups that are determined to overthrow the government and monarchy, claims the opposition vehemently denies.

Mr. Hun Sen named the KPPM as one of those groups with links to the opposition in another speech earlier this month but he has never provided any evidence of such ties or of the group’s alleged criminal activity. More ominously, in that speech Mr. Hun Sen also told the opposition not to be surprised if their members were arrested for terrorist activities.

Other groups Mr. Hun Sen has said aim to topple the government are the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), a non-violent dissident group based in Thailand with six alleged members currently in Prey Sar prison, and a previously unheard of group allegedly based in the U.S. called the Tiger Liberation Movement.

In its own response to the photos posted to the national police website, the KPPM claims that the images were taken at a May 5, 2012, meeting in Hamilton, Canada. It claims that Mr. Chhay attended its meeting after failing to attract an audience to his own event and that he proceeded to criticize the KPPM before hurrying away. It also accused the government of using the photos in an attempt to discredit a legitimate group of CPP critics.

Mr. Hun Sen first tied Mr. Sonando to the KPPM in June, when he announced that the government was planning to arrest the popular radio personality for playing a leading role in an alleged secessionist plot in rural Kratie province and for associating with the KPPM’s leader Mr. Serey Ratha.

The prime minister made his claim a few days after Mr. Sonando broadcast a story about the KPPM recently filing a request with the International Criminal Court to investigate Mr. Hun Sen for crimes against hu­manity over the government’s handling of land disputes.

Mr. Sonando was arrested soon after returning from the U.S. the next month, and in October, he was convicted on secessionist charges—which he adamantly denied—and sentenced to 20 years in jail. The Appeal Court overturned the secession-related convictions in March and set him free.

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