Kem Sokha, the Cambodian Opposition leader may face a jail term of 15 to 30 years if convicted for treason. This statement was released by the Cambodian Court on 5th September 2017. He was arrested on 3rd September 2017 for colluding with the US to undermine the South-East Asian Country.
Cambodia which lies in the South-East of Asia, has maintained period of stability for the past two decades. This is despite having survived the civil war and the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Cambodia is considered as one of the poorest countries in the world as majority of the workforce is agriculture dependent. Cambodia is also a country which faces challenges such as deep-rooted corruption. King Norodom Sihamoni is the figurative head of the state only for performing ceremonial rites. The real power vests with the Prime Minister Hun Sen. He is one of the longest serving Prime Ministers in the World since 1985. He was reappointed in September 2013 and is also a member of Khmer Rouge. Ahead of the general elections next year, he is accused of fraud by the opposition and mass demonstrations. He is also criticized for electoral fraudulent practices, corruption, authoritarian rule as well as intimidation to maintain quasi-dictatorial rule.
Kem Sokha led the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) since his predecessor resigned in February. As per statements made by his daughter Monovithya Kem, he was arrested after a raid by 100-200 policemen without any arrest warrant. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court said Kem Sokha had been charged with “colluding with foreigners” under Article 443 of Cambodia’s penal code. The evidence provided by the government consists of video of Kem Sokha from 2013 in which he tells supporters of his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that he has had American support and advice for his political strategy to win power. The Lawyer defending Kem Sokha issued statement that “His words are educational in a workshop. What he talked about was elections in a multi-party democratic way.” He went on to add that “The legal procedure is wrong and the charge isn’t correct”.
Prime Minister Han Sun has received support from China. This also throws light on China being one of the closest allies of Han Sun as billions of dollars was transferred as infrastructure loans. The European Union has called for immediate release of Kem Sokha based on parliamentary immunity he is entitled to enjoy as an elected lawmaker. United States as well as other Western Countries suspect the fairness of the upcoming general elections. United states also released statement where suspicion of the arrest being politically motivated was raised. On 4th September U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein also expressed his concern regarding the arrest.
Our assessment is that the arrest of Kem Sokha is one amongst the many ways by which Han Sun is trying to quell opposition and protest. Earlier this week The Cambodia Daily was forced to shut down. The party in power is using unscrupulous means to silence opposition as well as the media. This would be a difficult task to handle ahead of the upcoming elections. The table could be turned against Han Sun if the situation persists for long.
Can this be a catalyst to a cold war between United States and China?