PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's prime minister threatened Tuesday to arrest anyone who repeats opposition accusations that his government used "fake maps" to demarcate the country's border with Vietnam, reviving a campaign of pressure against his foes and critics.
Opposition lawmaker Um Sam An was charged Tuesday with two criminal offenses for having made the accusations in Facebook posts last year. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted. The lawmaker was arrested a day earlier in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap after having returned from a trip to the United States.
He was the latest member of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to be criminally charged for making comments on the politically sensitive topic and implying that Prime Minister Hun Sen's government failed to counter land encroachment by Vietnam, Cambodia's traditional enemy.
"I strongly declare that whoever talks about fake maps will be immediately arrested," Hun Sen said Tuesday. "Regardless of who you are — a member of parliament, a senator — if you are talking about fake maps, I will arrest you quickly."
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Um San An with incitement to commit a criminal act and inciting prejudice against another country, said his lawyer, Sam Sokong. The charges carry prison sentences of up to two and three years, respectively.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party decried his arrest, saying it breached his immunity as a lawmaker. The government rejects such claims, saying such arrests are allowable because the lawmakers have been caught in the act of committing a crime.
One of Um San An's colleagues in the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Hong Sok Hour, is facing trial on several charges after making similar criticisms last year.
Hun Sen has been in power for three decades. While Cambodia is formally democratic, his government is authoritarian and known for intimidating opponents.
Last year, Hun Sen put an end to an uneasy detente with the opposition party, with which he had reached a political truce in 2014 to end a boycott of parliament. The opposition mounted a surprisingly strong challenge against Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party in the 2013 general election, which it accused the government of stealing.
The opposition has faced physical and legal intimidation, and politically motivated legal actions against charismatic opposition leader Sam Rainsy have convinced him to stay abroad.
The opposition for its part had sought to capitalize on its election gains by hitting Hun Sen on the sensitive issue of relations with Vietnam, with some of its lawmakers charging that Cambodia was losing land to its neighbor.
Hong Sok Hour was arrested last August after Hun Sen accused him of treason for an online posting that included the purported text of a 1979 treaty with Vietnam that declared that their mutual border would be dissolved.
Hun Sen — who was foreign minister at the time in a government installed by a Vietnamese occupation force that invaded Cambodia to oust the murderous Khmer Rouge regime — insisted that the treaty was forged.
Hong Sok Hour apparently had reposted a bad translation of a document he found on the Internet, and was indicted on three charges, including falsifying public documents, using fake documents and inciting chaos. The charges carry maximum sentences of 10 years, five years and two years, respectively.