By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH (AA) - Police in Cambodia attempted to arrest the deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Thursday, in a fresh bid to further dent an already weakened opposition.
Kem Sokha -- who has parliamentary immunity -- has ignored several summons to appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to be questioned in relation to an infidelity scandal that came to light in February after a series of telephone conversations were leaked.
According to The Cambodia Daily, police said they were acting on the back of an arrest warrant that was in the possession of the court prosecutor.
In addition to entering the CNRP offices, they had also surrounded Sokha’s car on a main road, but he was not inside.
Ultimately, they were unsuccessful as Sokha had already left party headquarters to an undisclosed location.
Party spokesman Yim Sovann could not be reached.
The United States embassy quickly issued a warning to its citizens in Cambodia, saying that “even gatherings intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and have the potential to escalate into violence without warning.”
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun told Anadolu Agency on Thursday that even if Sokha were to attend the summons, “after he arrives at the court, he should be free; the problem is, he has immunity.”
Sokha was stripped of his position as vice president of the National Assembly in October, just days after two of his CNRP colleagues were beaten bloody by an anti-CNRP mob protesting outside.
Three of those attackers, who confessed to being members of the powerful Bodyguard Unit, are to receive their verdicts tomorrow.
"The CPP [the ruling Cambodian People's Party] is trying to close their legal trap on Kem Sokha by hook or by crook, using politicized police and security force squads that will do whatever key CPP leaders order regardless of the parliamentary immunity and protections that Sokha enjoys as a MP," Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia division told Anadolu Agency Thursday.
"The CPP and the government think that they have Sokha cornered, and want this to end in one of two ways -- either with Sokha in detention, or fleeing overseas into temporary exile."
Robertson underlined that the big question now is how will the international donors to Cambodia react.
"Are [they] just going to stand by and let this severe violation of human rights and rule of law happen, or... [are] they going to make their voices heard?"
CNRP president Sam Rainsy went into exile again last year to avoid arrest and imprisonment in a years-old defamation case brought against him by the former foreign minister, Hor Namhong.