A Cambodian court demanded the arrest of the leader of main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Sam Rainsy on Friday in connection with a defamation case brought by the Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008.
In April 2008, Rainsy gave a speech accusing Namhong of cooperating with the Khmer Rouge communist group, blamed for conducting mass killings under its rule.
As a result of that speech, Rainsy was sentenced by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to two years in prison.
Politically motivated decision
The party members claim the court ruling is politically motivated, as it came only a few days after Rainsy called for a peaceful power transmission in Cambodia’s next election, which is set to take place in 2018.
Commenting on Myanmar’s parliamentary election held on November 8, he had said: “We will see developments that will be reminiscent of what has been happening all over the world, especially very recently in Burma."
He also called on the international community to prevent Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been ruling Cambodia for 30 years, from delaying the country’s 2018 elections.
In response, Hun Sen threatened him with legal action on Thursday and posted a message on his Facebook account saying his country and Myanmar can not be compared due to many differences.
He said: "There is a difference in terms of political, regime, social economics, hardships and eases; even the number of elections is different: Myanmar has never had elections, while Cambodia has voted five times so far."
"I cannot keep calm because of this insult by the son of a traitor."
A Cambodian lawmaker from the opposition party, Eng Chhay Eang said "This is a politically motivated warrant. It is not about exercising the court's verdict because Sam Rainsy has been living freely [in Cambodia] for nearly three years."
Another Lawmaker Mu Sochua said "While the world and in particular the Asian region is inspired by the determination of the people of Myanmar, Cambodia sadly is seeing a deteriorating pre-election political environment."
“This is a very serious blow to even the facade of democracy in Cambodia,” she added.
The State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the United States is concerned that the judicial process might be politically influenced and demanded the drop of the charges.
Toner said, "The pattern of actions against the opposition suggests a return to the harsh political practices and tactics that the Cambodian people have made clear they no longer want."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on its website that read: “Cambodian authorities should rescind the politically motivated arrest warrant for opposition leader Sam Rainsy and quash the wrongful convictions on which it is based."
“Cambodia’s donors should publicly call for the case to be dropped and for Prime Minister Hun Sen to end his repeated use of the criminal law against political opponents,” the statement added.
It is not known whether the arrest of Rainsy would be realized as he has lawmaker status.
Rainsy is in Japan currently, but is expected to return to Cambodia on November 16.