A day after the ruling CPP decided deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha could be prosecuted despite his parliamentary immunity, a court official on Tuesday said an arrest warrant was forthcoming.
Mr. Sokha twice failed to appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court when called as a “witness” in a prostitution case brought against an alleged mistress of his. On Monday, 68 CPP lawmakers decided his absence constituted being caught red-handed committing a flagrant crime.
Lawmakers caught in the act of a crime are not initially protected by their immunity, and police tried to arrest Mr. Sokha last week, claiming to have an arrest warrant. However, municipal court director Taing Sunlay said on Tuesday a warrant had yet to be issued.
“The prosecutor needs to take more time for investigations on the procedures of the case, even though we will issue an arrest warrant,” he said.
Mr. Sokha is presently cooped up in the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district and has not been seen in public since police turned up there and unsuccessfully tried to arrest him on Thursday. It is unclear why police have not made any further attempts.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Monday said the reason police had not been trying to arrest Mr. Sokha was because they did not yet have an arrest warrant from the court.
On Tuesday, General Sopheak indicated the reason Mr. Sokha remained free was due to the threats of mass demonstrations should he be jailed, and the hundreds of CNRP supporters who turned out on Monday at the party’s headquarters, where police set up a blockade across the major road in front.
“I think that if a warrant came out while the situation was unstable, there would have been violence or a clash, so when that happened, would the government have had to respond to it?” he said.
On Monday, a group of CNRP lawmakers attempted to lead those supporters to the Royal Palace to deliver a petition asking King Norodom Sihamoni to intervene in the political situation. With the road blocked by police, they eventually agreed to send a motorcade of lawmakers to make the journey.
Led by lawmakers Yem Ponhearith, Ho Vann and Long Ry in a closely controlled drive, the CNRP delivered boxes containing what they said were the thumbprints of 200,000 people from across the country asking for the king’s help.
On Tuesday morning, the online Fresh News service—often an outlet for official government documents—published an article saying an unnamed Interior Ministry official was investigating claims that many prints had come from the same people.
Under the headline “The CNRP is Hugging Another Bomb to Its Chest and Just Waiting for the Day It Explodes,” the article said opposition party officials could face charges of making fake documents in an effort to fool the public and mistreat the king.
The site later also posted a video it said showed the faking of thumbprints taking place in an unspecified place in Kandal province in the days before the CNRP collected petitions from around the country.
“Just write down everyone in your family,” a woman says in the 35-second video, as a person’s hand writes in names next to thumbprints already on the page. No faces or other identifying features can be seen.
Gen. Sopheak, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said he was not aware of any plans for an investigation but said one was possible.
“If the Royal Palace suggests or makes a request to us about irregularities in the thumbprints, we will investigate,” Gen. Sopheak said. “My own idea is that the 200,000—that number of people could not be got.”
The palace is closely managed by Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol, a CPP stalwart who served as a government minister in the 1980s. Oum Daravuth, an adviser to the royal family, declined to comment on the case on Tuesday.
In a speech to supporters in front of the CNRP’s headquarters in the afternoon, CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith used the threats of an investigation to renew the opposition’s threats of mass demonstrations.
“I see there’s been news about irregularities in the thumbprints,” he said. “If there are irregularities, please, all those people, go to the front of the Royal Palace to see if the thumbprints are theirs or not.”