The saga involving the arrest of a politically-irrelevant opposition party’s leader took another twist on Tuesday when the party’s Phnom Penh offices were searched by anti-terrorism police, with a party official claiming it was due to links with a government-branded terrorist.
Dozens of officers and a deputy court prosecutor descended on the office of the Khmer Power Party (KPP)—which earned only 1,035 votes nationwide in the June commune elections—to carry out the search. Acting KPP president Soung Sophorn said the search was due to their former party leader’s association with Sam Serey, leader of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF).
Mr. Sophorn, 31, acknowledged that KPP founder and former president Sourn Serey Ratha—who resigned as party president late Monday night after being arrested and charged with several crimes related to a Facebook post made on Saturday—did have a personal relationship with Mr. Serey but said the two men were not co-conspirators.
The KNLF has been accused by the government of engaging in terrorist activities, including planting bombs in Phnom Penh, claims that Mr. Serey denies.
Sixteen KNLF members were in Cambodian prisons as of June, some serving up to nine years for attempting to overthrow the government. Mr. Serey, who fled to Denmark in 2010 where he lives in exile, was himself convicted in absentia in December for plotting to commit an attack and sentenced to nine years.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophana confirmed on Tuesday that the police’s search of the KPP’s offices was unrelated to the three counts of incitement and promoting disloyalty in the armed forces currently laid against Mr. Serey Ratha.
“It is an investigation by the National Police’s department of anti-terrorism and transboundary crime suppression over a different case involving Mr. Sourn Serey Ratha,” Mr. Sophana said, declining to provide more details.
Mr. Serey Ratha is currently being detained at Prey Sar prison. He was arrested in Phnom Penh on Sunday after posting comments on Facebook the day before about Mr. Hun Sen and the Cambodian military.
In the scathing post, Mr. Serey Ratha accused the military’s top generals of spending time with women in air-conditioned rooms while soldiers on the front lines risked their lives. He also said Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent diplomatic trip to Laos showed the premier “bows down his head” and “enters his adversary’s barracks asking for negotiation.”
His case has passed through the courts at unusual speed, with the trial starting on Monday before being swiftly postponed to allow Mr. Serey Ratha to get a lawyer.
“What Sourn Serey Ratha said was only criticism, and it is not an insult at all,” Mr. Sophorn said at a fiery press conference outside the KPP offices on Tuesday. “He wanted the commanders to take care of their soldiers.”
Mr. Sophorn, who was a CNRP National Assembly candidate in 2013, replaced Mr. Serey Ratha as leader of the KPP despite only joining the party one week ago. The outspoken former youth leader left the CNRP in March, calling opposition leader Kem Sokha “a puppet” of the government.
During his first day in his new role, Mr. Sophorn emulated his predecessor’s outspoken leadership style, suggesting that top government officials—including Mr. Hun Sen, Defense Minister Tea Banh and Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth—should apologize for past remarks they had made that were similar to those of Mr. Serey Ratha.
He said that statements from Mr. Hun Sen threatening war if the ruling party lost an election, Mr. Banh’s threats to “smash teeth” of protesters during the weeks before the elections and Mr. Sauth’s more recent warning of beatings with bamboo sticks—as well as comments made by League for Democracy Party President Khem Veasna allegedly comparing Khmer people to dogs—all merited apologies.
“I want all four to issue letters apologizing to the people,” Mr. Sophorn said. “Or if some are prosecuted, prosecute all the four.”
© 2017, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.