Following orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen, opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested and charged with forgery and incitement over the weekend for posting an apparently fake treaty with Vietnam to Facebook.
In a speech on Thursday, Mr. Hun Sen described Mr. Sok Hour’s use of the treaty, which purports to show former President Heng Samrin agreeing in 1979 to dissolve the border with Vietnam, as “treason” and ordered authorities to seize and prosecute him.
At 6 a.m. on Saturday, police armed with assault rifles carried out Mr. Hun Sen’s orders, arresting the senator at a CNRP lawmaker’s house in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, according to Eng Sorphea, chief of the municipal police’s serious crimes bureau.
On Sunday morning, following a day of questioning, and with a similarly well-armed police contingent waiting in front of the municipal court, Investigating Judge Kor Vandy wrote to the Senate, saying that he had charged and jailed Mr. Sok Hour.
“I, in the name of the investigating judge, decide to detain Hong Sok Hour, 59, a member of the Cambodian Senate, for forging public documents, using forged documents and incitement to cause chaos in social order,” Judge Vandy wrote.
In laying the charges, the judge cited articles 629, 630 and 495 of the penal code, respectively. If Mr. Sok Hour, who is also a French citizen, is found guilty of all three offenses, he would face between 7 1/2 and 17 years in jail.
As a member of the Senate for the legacy Sam Rainsy Party, which merged with the Human Rights Party to form the CNRP before the disputed 2013 national election, Mr. Sok Hour holds immunity from legal prosecution that has yet to be expunged.
However, the ruling CPP has the two-thirds majority in the Senate that is necessary to revoke the senator’s privilege. In his letter to the Senate, Judge Vandy said repealing Mr. Sok Hour’s immunity would be justified.
While Mr. Hun Sen appeared to accuse Mr. Sok Hour of posting the fake treaty to Facebook himself, Judge Vandy said that Mr. Sok Hour’s offense occurred within an 11-minute video posted to opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s more popular page.
Mr. Sok Hour has played a central role in the CNRP’s recent campaign to uncover Vietnamese encroachments into Cambodia, traveling to Paris to collect maps the opposition says it will use to check if border posts are properly placed.
At the CNRP’s headquarters last week, the senator used the maps as a reference while delivering a speech aiming to show that Cambodia has illicitly lost large swaths of land to Vietnam. Judge Vandy cited footage of the speech in his letter.
“In the video clip, Hong Sok Hour elaborated on the context of Article 4 of a 1979 treaty that Heng Samrin, as the head of state of Cambodia, had signed with the head of Vietnam on March 28, 1979, in which the two countries agreed to dissolve the border between the two states,” he wrote.
He explained that the video showed a copy of the 1979 treaty with the fourth article highlighted, part of which reads: “The two parties will negotiate and sign off on dissolving both national borders… and both parties strongly decide to revise the border to be a border of peace, friendship and stability between the two countries.”
Judge Vandy said the paragraph was a clear fabrication, and that Article 4 of the genuine treaty stated only: “Both parties agree to resolve disputes that could occur by communicating with each other and negotiating peacefully.”
Mr. Rainsy said from Europe last month that he believed a court decision to sentence 11 CNRP activists to between seven and 20 years in prison for “insurrection” over a violent protest last year was a message to the party to end its border campaign.
Returning to Cambodia shortly after Mr. Sok Hour was charged and jailed Sunday, the opposition leader was more circumspect, telling reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport that his main concern was the release of the activists and Mr. Sok Hour.
“Every issue is linked, but we do not have to make comments on anything but that which is most important,” Mr. Rainsy said, adding he had contacted Mr. Hun Sen regarding the jailings. “We want to see the people who have been jailed released,” he said.
“I hope that the situation will be relieved soon and now there are tensions, but I will try to use a cool method to bring the situation back to normal,” he said. “This does not impact the ‘culture of dialogue’…. If there are incidents and the situation is getting tense, we must work hard to get rid of that tension.”
Kun Lum Ang, Mr. Sok Hour’s wife and a CNRP lawmaker candidate for Takeo province in the 2013 election, told reporters at the municipal court Sunday that the arrest of her husband was unjust, and violated his rights as a senator.
“Brothers and sisters, where is the justice?” Ms. Lum Ang said, crying. “This violates procedure, because my husband still has immunity but they put him in Prey Sar [prison].”
According to the Constitution, police can arrest a Senator if he or she is caught in the act of committing a crime, then later ask the Senate to strip immunity. Judge Vandy, in his letter, invoked this in defense of Mr. Sok Hour’s arrest.
Mr. Rainsy also gave his tentative support to calls raised by Hun Sen last week for changes to the second article of the Constitution, which requires the government to use a French colonial map drawn between 1933 and 1953 to demarcate the border.
The CNRP’s campaign over the past three months to discredit the government’s border demarcation work has centered around accusations that the CPP has been using maps drawn by the Vietnamese during the 1980s.
The CPP has refused to publicly release the maps it uses to delineate the border, which has spurred on the CNRP’s campaign.
However, Mr. Rainsy said he would only consider throwing the CNRP’s lawmakers behind amending the Constitution if the current article was replaced with one allowing any French maps drawn between 1863 and 1953 to be used.
“We should take all the maps from the past up to 1953 and 1954. We do not have to set 1953,” he said. “The maps that benefit Cambodia, we [should] take those maps.”