Sam Rainsy has taken exception to journalists who write that he “fled” Cambodia in late 2015. Instead, he says, what actually happened was that Interior Minister Sar Kheng contacted him privately via then-U.S. Ambassador William Heidt to warn him not to return from a visit to South Korea. Rainsy has stated that Sar Kheng “begged me not to come back” and advised him to wait abroad as the Interior Minister tried to talk Prime Minister Hun Sen down from his threat to issue an arrest warrant for the opposition leader.
The day Sam Rainsy was supposed to return from a visit to Seoul – November 16, 2015 – the National Assembly voted to remove his parliamentary immunity. At the time, he was president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s only true opposition party. Banned in November 2017 on the spurious grounds that it was plotting a U.S.-backed coup, hundreds of the party’s elected officials and activists joined Sam Rainsy in exile, while the party’s president Kem Sokha, who took over the post in early 2017, was arrested for treason – a charge that still hangs over him.