Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha told his supporters on Sunday to abandon the party’s policy of “don’t argue, don’t answer, don’t respond” and to start fighting back against the CPP.
Mr. Sokha has been the target of court action for months, forcing him into hiding at the party’s headquarters. On Friday, a warrant signed by Phnom Penh deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok was posted to the front gate of Mr. Sokha’s house informing him of his conviction and five-month prison sentence handed down earlier this month.
About 400 youth members gathered at the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on Sunday, where Mr. Sokha said the time had come to scrap a policy of not responding to provocation.
“I previously told all CNRP leaders: ‘Don’t argue, don’t answer, don’t respond,’ and we stayed quiet. But they still caused trouble,” he said. “It’s time to exercise our rights.”
The policy of not responding was adopted in March after audio clips were leaked online, apparently of Mr. Sokha speaking with a mistress.
In the ensuing months, those recordings have been used as the basis for prosecuting the deputy opposition leader.
With Mr. Sokha sidelined and CNRP president Sam Rainsy also absent—having fled to France to avoid prison in a separate court case—Prime Minister Hun Sen has gone on a busy nationwide tour of the provinces a year ahead of commune elections.
“We cannot fall asleep and wait while someone ties up our hands and legs and covers our nose and mouth,” Mr. Sokha said on Sunday. “We must fight back.”
A week ago, the CNRP announced tentative plans to stage a mass demonstration against the legal cases facing its leaders.
The government quickly responded by banning the CNRP from holding any demonstration, promising to use force if necessary.
Mr. Sokha said the government was overreacting, and reminded supporters that it was their legal right to protest.
“We will not lead a revolution. We will not execute a coup. So, please, just finish out your mandate,” Mr. Sokha said on Saturday. Having narrowly won the 2013 national election, the CPP’s current electoral mandate ends in 2018.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said Mr. Sokha and the CNRP could not be trusted to demonstrate peacefully.
“The CPP cannot believe him because competitors never show their hands,” Mr. Eysan said, reiterating that authorities would suppress any opposition demonstrations.
“He may have the right to hold demonstrations, but Samdech Techo [Mr. Hun Sen] has already declared that it will not be allowed—hether they are small or big, whenever, and whatever form they take,” he said.
“They will not be allowed because these demonstrations wouldn’t be solving any national or people’s issues. They would only have the purpose of defending a person who has made a mistake,” Mr. Eysan added, referring to Mr. Sokha’s conviction.
The deputy opposition leader will be arrested once his case is upheld by the Supreme Court, Mr. Eysan said, even if his supporters rally to protect him.