Court orders Cambodian opposition chief to hear new charges

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 7:22 PM
Court orders Cambodian opposition chief to hear new charges

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian court has summoned opposition leader Sam Rainsy to hear new charges against him, after an arrest warrant was issued last week in a separate case, piling more pressure on opponents of the country's autocratic leader.

Rainsy's arrest is being sought on an old defamation conviction that many believed had been lifted by a 2013 pardon. The ruling party-dominated National Assembly stripped Rainsy of his lawmaker's status and parliamentary immunity on Monday, prompting him to delay his return from an overseas trip.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has now all but abrogated a political truce he reached with the opposition in 2014 to end a boycott of Parliament. The opposition had accused Hun Sen's party of stealing the 2013 general election.

The summons issued Friday for Rainsy to appear before Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Dec. 4 calls for him to hear charges of falsifying public documents, using fake documents and inciting social unrest.

The summons does not specify what actions are covered by the charges, but they are the same being faced by a fellow member of his Cambodia National Rescue Party who posted mistranslated documents about the border with Vietnam on Facebook, including on Rainsy's page. The August dates of Rainsy's alleged offenses match when the postings were made.

Rainsy's party has been making political inroads this year by highlighting what it says is the loss of national territory to neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia's traditional enemy. The government responded by pursuing cases in court against its opponents, with harsh sentences handed down in questionable proceedings.

Late last month, two opposition lawmakers were savagely beaten by members of a pro-government mob. Shortly afterward, opposition party deputy leader Kem Sokha was removed from his post as vice president of the National Assembly, and last week the measures against Rainsy were initiated.

Rainsy's original response to last week's arrest warrant was to promise to return as scheduled this week to his homeland, but after his immunity from arrest was lifted, he postponed his return. He has had previous standoffs with the government that have led to him spending substantial time abroad until he was able to reach deals with Hun Sen, who has led the country for three decades.