Arrest warrant issued against Sam Rainsy over old defamation case as political tensions in the country rise again.
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has delayed his return to Phnom Penh, where he faces arrest in connection with a seven-year-old defamation case.
The case was dusted off by Cambodian authorities this week after Rainsy made public remarks calling on the international community to pressure Prime Minister Hun Sen to move towards a peaceful exit from office.
An arrest warrant was issued for Rainsy on Friday.
Rainsy, who has previously spent time in self-imposed exile abroad when facing jail in Cambodia, was expected to return to the capital on Monday night after a stay in South Korea.
But in a Facebook post, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) president said he was delaying his trip.
“After consulting with colleagues in Cambodia and a number of international pro-democracy organisations that have suggested that I should arrive in Phnom Penh in broad daylight and that I should also leave some time for diplomatic intervention to materialise with the objective of reaching a peaceful solution to the recent escalation of violence in Cambodia, I am not arriving at Phnom Penh International Airport tonight at 22:20 as originally scheduled, but will be back in Cambodia in the next few days,” he wrote.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Rainsy and sentenced him to two years in jail in 2011 for defaming Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008, by accusing him of colluding with the Khmer Rouge while being held as a prisoner.
The conviction, however, was never enforced and Rainsy has been free to live in Cambodia and serve as the opposition leader in parliament.
Cambodian NGOs released a statement on Monday night, condemning the government’s “crackdown” on the CNRP.
“This opposition crackdown stands in sharp contrast with recent events in nearby Myanmar – where autocratic rule is making way for the development of democracy,” said the joint statement, signed by 17 prominent human rights groups.
“In Cambodia, on the other hand, democracy is being steadily and intentionally eroded.”
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said last week that the timing of the charges against Rainsy gave the appearance of political influence in the judicial process.
He said the US was deeply concerned about the deteriorating political climate in Cambodia, including recent assaults against two opposition politicians.
“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,” Toner said.