Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy will not return to Cambodia to face charges of inciting racial discrimination and damaging property until the government releases all prisoners being held for protesting land evictions, a SRP party official said Friday.
The charges Mr Rainsy faces stem from his Oct 25 visit to Chantrea district’s Samraong commune in Svay Rieng province, where he criticized both Vietnamese and Cambodian officials for their handling of the border’s demarcation after villagers complained that they risked loosing their land. Mr Rainsy, who is currently in Paris, is also accused of uprooting six demarcation poles placed in a farmer’s field along the border.
“Mr Sam Rainsy confirmed already that he will come back to Cambodia…when the court releases the two that are in jail so far and release other people who have been jailed for protesting land evictions he will come back,” Yim Sovann, spokesman for the SRP party, said referring to comments made Thursday evening by Mr Rainsy on FM 93.5.
“Give back the land to those people,” Mr Sovann said. “Sam Rainsy
will come back as soon as the government releases the victims and
gives their land back.”
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Mr Rainsy should not attempt to hold the government to ransom by laying out conditions.
“It is nothing to do with the government. The court released an arrest warrant; that is the court’s responsibility,” he said.
“He should not submit conditions for the government,” he added.
As for the two farmers arrested after Mr Rainsy’s visit to Svay Rieng province, and on the same charges, Mr Siphan said their cases should be considered on a separate basis and not in conjunction with other land dispute cases in Cambodia.
“We cannot share together all the cases,” he said. “We do have only one law together and one court together. Nobody shall be above the law.”
The court has arrested two farmers – Meas Srey, 39, and Prum Chea, 41, both of Koh Kban Kandal village- who were present with Mr Rainsy during his visit in October.
Choung Chou Ngy, Mr Rainsy’s lawyer, said on Friday that the Svay Rieng court issued an arrest warrant for Mr Rainsy on Dec 29.
He said the judge had decided to issue the warrant after Mr Rainsy failed to appear in court on Monday. Mr Rainsy was asked to appear before the court’s Investigating Judge Long Kesphyrum to answer questions in relations to the allegations against him, but sent his lawyer in his stead. The court was not satisfied with the lawyer’s presence and Mr Rainsy absence.
But Mr Chou Ngy said Friday, “whenever there is a request from a legal
attorney to delay the preliminary hearing, the court must allow it. So
I can only say that the court has taken strict measures.”
Provincial Prosecutor Keo Sothea, said: “It is really hard to talk about this case. But the warrant has been sent to all competent forces including police and military police.”
Reached Friday by telephone, Hem Saban, chief of the serious crimes department for Svay Rieng provincial police said he did not know if Mr Rainsy’s arrest warrant had arrived at his office.
Sok Sam Oeun, director of the free legal aid group Cambodian Defenders Project, said that the court should take into consideration the small value of the property that Mr Rainsy has allegedly damaged before coming to any definitive verdict.
“If he really wanted to damage the property…that is one element. The value is another,” he said.
As for the farmers, he said, determining their culpability was more difficult.
If those who stand to loose their land have a title on the land, “do [they] not have the right to protect the land?” Mr Sam Oeun asked.
“This case is kind of politically motivated case it’s not really related to justice,” said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections. “It’s not the first time that the court has been involved in this sort of case.”
Mr Panha said that the case was another sign that justice and freedom of expression in Cambodia was being squeezed by the government.
“They [the opposition] will find it very difficult to express their opinion,” he said.