Prominent Cambodian opposition lawmaker flees country after arrest threat

Mu Sochua says no hope for free and fair elections in Cambodia

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 3:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 3:27pm

A prominent Cambodian opposition lawmaker has fled the country after being warned by government officials that she faced arrest for links with the party president’s alleged plot to overthrow the government.

Mu Sochua, who also served as deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), left Cambodia on Tuesday, a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen warned of strong action against any others who may have been involved in the alleged plot. She had received an arrest warning from a senior Ministry of Interior official, Kem Monovithya, a deputy party chief for public affairs, said on Twitter late Tuesday.

“Without a true opposition and with the wide level of fear, there’s no hope for free and fair elections in 2018,” Mu Sochua, 63, told Reuters after leaving Cambodia, adding that she “did not feel safe”.

“Democracy in Cambodia is very rapidly eroding to a point where no other opposing forces are left to fight dictatorship,” she said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Mu Sochua had “left of her own choice” and he did not know whether authorities had planned to arrest her.

Opposition party president Kem Sokha was charged with treason for allegedly conspiring with the United States to topple the government, and could face 30 years in prison if convicted. He was arrested on September 3 on the basis of videos from several years ago showing him at a seminar where he spoke about receiving advice from US pro-democracy groups.

His arrest in the middle of the night came amid a crackdown on the media.

Almost half of the 55 opposition lawmakers have fled Cambodia since Kem Sokha’s arrest, fearing their own security and to avoid being arrested themselves. Mu Sochua’s whereabouts were not immediately known.

Kem Sokha had been expected to lead the CNRP in next year’s election in a strong challenge against the Cambodian People’s Party of Hun Sen, who has held power for three decades. The opposition party has denied the treason allegation, saying the charge is strictly politically motivated.

In a speech in Siem Reap province on Monday, Hun Sen said treasonous acts within the opposition involved other opposition party officials in addition to Kem Sokha. He said he would search for others who may have been involved.

Cambodia’s appeal court last week rejected a request for the release on bail of Kem Sokha. On Tuesday, Kem Sokha released a statement denying the accusations, saying he has always sought “change through non-violent elections” in his role as opposition party president.

Additional reporting by Reuters