Interview: 'Kem Sokha Must be Released'

Kem Monovithya, daughter of jailed Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha, tells reporter Nareth Muong of RFA’s Khmer Service in an Oct. 2, 2017 interview that she has been meeting with government officials and lawmakers in the U.S. and the EU to ask for their support in pressing for Kem Sokha’s release and creating the space for free and fair national elections in Cambodia next year.

RFA:  What is the significance of your meetings with EU and US officials?

Kem Monovithya:  I am very optimistic about those meetings. The governments of European countries have made it clear that an election that lacks participation by the main opposition party  will not be legitimate or recognized. They are also demanding Kem Sokha’s release and an open democratic space, including the lifting restrictions on independent media and civil society organizations.

RFA: What have you asked the international community to do to ensure that the current political situation returns to normalcy?

Kem Monovithya:  We would like them to continue monitoring the situation in Cambodia and push the government to change its attitude in a timely manner, as the national election will be held in July 2018. We need to make sure that things are back on a right track so that we can prepare for the election.  European countries and the U.S. can play a significant role in this.

RFA: Your father has been charged with conspiring with foreign powers to change the current regime through elections. Are you not afraid that you will also be implicated, because what you are doing is exactly what your father has been accused of doing?

Kem Monovithya:  Everyone in Cambodia is intimidated by Hun Sen and his ruling party. They can cause us trouble any time they want. Not only members of the CNRP are intimidated but also members of the CPP themselves do not feel secure. However, I hope the government will not label me an instigator of a color revolution for speaking with foreign countries to put pressure on the government to release my father. Absurdly, the democratic means the CNRP has been perusing are being called a color revolution. This has taken the entire world by surprise.

But I trust the international community knows the right things to do to help Cambodia. If any sanctions are imposed on the government, it will be because the government itself has provoked such measures. The Cambodian government is destroying peace, development, and democracy by persecuting the opposition party, the media, and civil society organizations. Any sour relations with foreign governments are being created by the Cambodian government itself.

RFA:  Why do you think Kem Sokha has been accused of treason?

Kem Monovithya:  I believe this accusation is personal and vindictive. Over the past three decades, leaders of the ruling [CPP] party themselves have been described as traitors. They hate this term so much. So in revenge they are accusing the CNRP of treason. But no matter what we are called, we have faith in our people, who know who and what are really are. Over three million Cambodians have already voted for us. The CPP will not stop being called traitors simply by accusing the CNRP of treason. The ruling party should start doing good for the people instead.

RFA:  Do you think that seeking foreign assistance and advice to build democracy in your country can be described as a conspiracy?

Kem Monovithya:  Absolutely not! The current government depends a lot on foreign aid and assistance. Even our National Election Committee receives funds from foreign countries. The government has never taken issue with that. But when it comes to the CNRP’s relations with foreign countries, the government paradoxically treats these as a conspiracy. I think the government is manipulating this issue about foreign assistance for political gain and to weaken the opposition party ahead of the national election. That’s why I believe in what I am doing. In my capacity as an official of the CNRP,  I am authorized to deal with foreign countries to ask for their help. I’m not afraid of doing this. And I’m not afraid of being accused by the ruling party for doing this.

RFA:  Hun Sen today threatened to arrest more people in Kem Sokha’s case, saying that treason is an organized offense that must involve several people. What do you think of this?

Kem Monovithya: The CNRP is a well-organized and structured opposition party with over three million supporters. We work together for democracy. Everyone in the party is involved with Kem Sokha in promoting democracy. If the CPP wants to arrest more people, they will have to arrest over three million Cambodians.

RFA:  Several independent media outlets including Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, Voice of Democracy, and the outlet that the CNRP used to air its regular programs to voters have been banned. How is the CNRP communicating its message to people about these latest developments?

Kem Monovithya: We are doing advocacy work now. We cannot accept that these radio stations have been closed. We are using social media to get our message to our people. We are also visiting them, but our visits to our constituents are being met with threats from Hun Sen. The ruling party is attempting to deny our access to information and to demoralize us. They are trying to keep us from carrying out our political activities. These are things we would like the international community to step in to help with.

RFA:  Given the current political tension, will the CNRP continue to stand by its position that it won’t back down?

Kem Monovithya: This is official. The CNRP maintains our position that Kem Sokha must be released. We cannot walk the path marked out by the CPP. We cannot join the CPP in destroying democracy.

RFA:  Hun Sen says that the CNRP is destroying democracy, peace, and stability. He says that he has to maintain peace and stability at all cost. What is your reaction to his remarks?

Kem Monovithya: The world is condemning the government of Cambodia for destroying democracy. The economic growth and developments in Cambodia from the Paris Peace Accords period to the present time have been achieved thanks to Cambodia open to democracy and pluralism. The opposition parties play significant roles in these. The independent media and civil society organizations also play important parts in these. Now the government is destroying them.

RFA:  Several CNRP lawmakers are out of the country now. What are they doing outside of Cambodia? When will they return?

Kem Monovithya: The CNRP lawmakers are meeting supporters in foreign countries. They will go back to Cambodia soon.

RFA: What message would you send to your father in prison?

Kem Monovithya:  My message to him is that we are determined. We won’t back down. We are committed to continuing his fight for democracy. And we are adamant that we will continue to advocate for his immediate and unconditional release so that he can lead the CNRP to positive change [for Cambodia]in the upcoming national election.

Source: RFA – Interview: 'Kem Sokha Must be Released'