♦ An all-day hearing at the Kingdom's highest court ended in a ruling to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party
♦ Ruling means the CNRP will lose all its elected representatives at the local and national level
♦ 118 senior party officials, including imprisoned party president Kem Sokha and exiled former leader Sam Rainsy, are banned from politics for five years
That's all from our blog. A full analysis of the day's events and implications will be online later tonight.
Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed the nation this evening, saying the government supported the decision of the Supreme Court to dissolve the ruling party's primary political rival.
In a 20-minute address, the premier said he was committed to maintaining a multiparty democracy in the country and called on citizens to maintain peace and social order.
"We will still strongly adhere to democracy at the national and sub-national level," he said in a television broadcast. "The Supreme Court has just issued the verdict to dissolve the CNRP and it is according to the principle of rule of law."
The premier spent the majority of the address once again asking Cambodia National Rescue Party elected officials to defect to his Cambodian People's Party, extending the deadline for jumping ship by two more weeks. So far, fewer than 200 opposition officials have joined the ruling party.
"All the members and activists of the CNRP, except a few whose rights were suspended by the Supreme Court, still have their freedoms," Hun Sen said.
The broadcast on CTN ended with a repeat airing of a video making the government's case that the CNRP was plotting a so-called "colour revolution".
— Ananth Baliga
Since October the government has pushed a series of legal amendments through the court system which have ensured that the CNRP will be left with no elected representatives now it is dissolved.
Though the party won 43.83% of the popular vote and 489 commune chief seats in this year's commune elections in June, all who have not yet defected to the CPP will lose their jobs. Meanwhile the National Assembly, Cambodia's parliament, will become stacked with seats for a party — Funcinpec — that won just 3.66% of the vote in the 2013 national election.
— Jenni Reid
On Twitter, commentary has been rolling in since the news broke at 5pm.
Dissolved #CNRP president Kem Sokha was arrested & remained in jail & would be charged with treason, former president @RainsySam rejoined the party a day ahead of dissolution, today the CNRP is dissolved& its party's 118 members banned. What is the concession after this?
— Noan Sereiboth (@noansereiboth) November 16, 2017
— Billy Tai (@billycltai) November 16, 2017
#Cambodia struggled with democracy but decision of Supreme Court to dissolve the main opposition party months before the general election is a clear signal that the CPP aren't interested in even pretending. The people are disenfranchised by this decision.https://t.co/elIcCjGST2
— Fiona Donson (@FDonson) November 16, 2017
If the least surprising news of 2016 was Hun Sen's endorsement of Donald Trump, then the least surprising news of 2017 is Hun Sen's dissolution of the main opposition party. https://t.co/AuiYNZcmnA
— Lee Morgenbesser (@LMorgenbesser) November 16, 2017
— Monovithya Kem (@MNVKem) November 16, 2017
Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann reacted to the party's dissolution by saying “they cannot remove the CNRP from the heart of the people”.
“This is the end of democracy in Cambodia. We have not done anything wrong. We have fought for democracy. They have killed the will of more than three million people in Cambodia.”
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian parliament, just released a reaction to the court's decision.
“The Supreme Court has hammered the final nail in the coffin for Cambodian democracy. Its decision not only leaves the country without its only viable opposition party less than a year before scheduled elections, but also completely undermines Cambodia’s institutional framework and the rule of law,” he said.
The Supreme Court this evening ruled to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party, ending the only existing electoral threat to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s grip on power in the Kingdom.
The historic ruling will see the opposition party disbanded and also bans 118 of the party’s senior officials from politics for five years -- including party president Kem Sokha and exiled former leader Sam Rainsy.
The dissolution comes after a sustained campaign mounted by the government and led by Prime Minister Hun Sen claiming that the CNRP had engaged in a "colour revolution", with the assistance of the United States.
Under new amendments to election laws, the CNRP will lose all 489 of its commune chiefs and all 55 of its seats in the National Assembly.
Updates to follow.
Ministry of Interior lawyers this morning presented more than 20 pieces of evidence to support their request to dissolve the opposition CNRP, including videos of party President Kem Sokha and former leader Sam Rainsy, audio recordings and media reports.
The Supreme Court is now back in session after a two-hour lunch break. During the morning session, Interior Ministry lawyer Ky Tech and fellow lawyer Ly Chantola presented the evidence, calling for the dissolution of the CNRP and the blacklisting of 118 senior members of the party.
The CNRP has not sent legal representation for the case and Sokha, currently jailed in Tbong Khmum province on charges of "treason", was not present at the hearing.
Full story here.
— Ben Sokhean
After four hours of the hearing, the court will now take a lunch break and resume at 2pm. Updates to follow.
Supreme Court spokesman Ouk Kimseth told Fresh News this morning that the court will announce its verdict on the dissolution of the CNRP today, despite the fact that a panel of nine judges is still in the process of conducting its hearing on the case.
Former Cambodia Daily journalist Len Leng was escorted away from the Supreme Court this morning after officials said she did not have a press pass, despite assurances from Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Chhoun Sovann that the hearing was open to the public.
Leng was approached by security personnel outside the court and asked for a press pass, and was escorted away when she said she didn’t have one. She was taken away by local security guards and is now being questioned at the Chaktomuk commune police office.
Local media outlet Swift News has claimed she was detained for "pretending to be a journalist".
Only a few hours earlier, Chhoun Sovann had said that security measures were to prevent any “terrorism” issues but that journalists and others were allowed to observe the trial.
“People who have the intention to see the trial, they can go freely,” he said near the court premises.
— Mech Dara
This post has been updated to give the correct police station Leng is being questioned at.
The US Embassy in Phnom Penh has asked all of its citizens to "exercise caution" in light of the "heightened security presence in Phnom Penh, especially around the Supreme Court", urging them to stay away from any large gatherings, avoid protests and demonstrations, and to monitor local media reports.
"Although the Embassy has no specific information regarding any planned demonstrations or security issues at this time, we urge all U.S. citizens to exercise caution. Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence without warning," the message on their Facebook page reads.
The Embassy has been accused by the government of assisting the opposition's alleged attempts at "colour revolution", and a 2013 video in which CNRP head Kem Sokha discusses receiving US support has been presented as key evidence showing his alleged "treason".
— Ananth Baliga
Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke to garment workers at Kandal's 7NG industrial park this morning, once again raising the spectre of foreign interference in the Kingdom.
"I will still be with you all in such situations to maintain peace. I appeal to brothers and sisters to be nationalists. I appeal to everyone to maintain peace. We have an obligation to defend our country. No bowing your head to foreigners," he said.
— Kong Meta
The hearing, which was scheduled to start at 8:30 this morning, has put central areas of the capital on security lockdown, with multiple layers of police barricades on every street leading to the court.
Journalists and civil society observers were prevented from passing through multiple roadblocks this morning, but were finally let in under police escort.
Those that did manage to get into the court were patted down by police officials – a rarity for the high court. Since no phones were allowed in the courthouse, at the moment news on the hearing’s progress is scant.
As the proceedings inside began, approximately 50 reporters and observers were waiting outside.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Chhoun Sovann was present in the area this morning, and told a Post reporter the heightened security was due to “terrorism” events in foreign countries.
“As you know about the situation clearly, around the world, especially in developed countries, terrorism is the main issue,” he said.
“Therefore our Phnom Penh authorities have worked to take those experiences, to study and make an evaluation about the situation, so we create a safety zone in order to guarantee the safety for the Supreme Court.”
— Ananth Baliga
There is a strong security presence around the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, where the hearing to decide the fate of the CNRP commenced this morning. More updates when we have them.
In 2012, a little over a month after the Human Rights Party and Sam Rainsy Party won a combined 40 commune chief positions in local elections, the two groups met in Manila, finally agreeing on what had been bandied about for years: a united opposition party to challenge the power of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Initially called the Cambodia Democratic Movement of National Rescue, the new party vowed to “unite all patriots and democrats”.
“Our nation is drowning in disaster. The country is under the dictatorship of a leader who serves only the interests of foreign invaders,” then-party leader Sam Rainsy said at a press conference in 2012.
Five years later, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party had come to hold more than 10 times as many commune chief seats – 489 out of a total of 1,646 – as well as nearly half of the seats in Cambodia’s National Assembly.
Now, however, it finds itself on the verge of dissolution – a dramatic turn of events less than a year before the national election. But one that observers say is the culmination of a long line of attempts by the government and ruling party to quell an unprecedented opposition challenge.
Read the full story here.
Reporting by Ananth Baliga and Mech Dara
These are the nine judges who will decide the fate of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Many of them have intimate ties to the ruling party, or have previously made controversial decisions in politically tinged cases.
President Dith Munty: Member of the CPP permanent, standing and central committees, and a long-term ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Served as deputy minister of foreign affairs in the 1990s.
Vice-President Khim Pon: Appointed to CPP central committee in 2005. Upheld a defamation conviction against opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua in 2010. Upheld a charge of racial incitement against then-opposition leader Sam Rainsy in 2011. Convicted an activist from rights group Licadho of incitement in 2012.
Vice-President Kong Srim: President of the Supreme Court Chamber for the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Vice-President Chiv Keng: Former adviser to the late Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who was a CPP permanent committee member and personal confidant of Hun Sen. Former president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Vice-President You Ottara: Former Ministry of Justice official, judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Trial Chamber
Judge Seng Neang: Sentenced then-opposition leader Sam Rainsy to two years in prison for defamation against senior CPP official Hor Namhong, adding a charge of inciting discrimination in 2010. Sued for disbarment for not issuing a warrant to arrest Hun Sen’s cousin, despite her being convicted of fraud and sentenced in 2012.
Judge Sem Sakola: Convicted opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua of defamation at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2009.
Judge Chaing Sinath: Former Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge.
Judge Kong Tarachhath: Former judge at the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court
Reporting by Mech Dara and Andrew Nachemson
Analysis in today’s Phnom Penh Post shows how the decision to preserve or to dissolve the CNRP will fall to a judge listed as a member of the ruling CPP’s most exclusive committee, and whose close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen stretch back more than three decades.
Supreme Court President Dith Munty, who turns 76 today, is a member of the Cambodian People’s Party’s powerful permanent committee and was part of a trusted circle of advisers to the premier as the country rebuilt itself after the Khmer Rouge was ousted.
As presiding judge of the hearing, Munty will be directly involved in making the final call.
But in the 19 years since the Supreme Court has been under Munty’s leadership, analysts say, it has failed to establish its independence from Hun Sen and his CPP – controversially deciding, among other things, to uphold a politically tinged incitement conviction against former opposition leader Sam Rainsy in 2011, as well as a defamation conviction against senior opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua in 2010.
Munty is not alone on the Supreme Court in his ties to the ruling party.
Supreme Court Vice President Khim Pon is also listed as a member of the CPP’s central committee and was a former deputy interior minister in the 1990s, while fellow Vice President Chiv Keng is a former adviser to late Deputy Prime Minister Sok An – himself a member of the CPP’s permanent committee, and one of Hun Sen’s closest allies.
The court’s chief prosecutor, Chea Leang, is a niece of An and a national co-prosecutor at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, where she has been accused by critics of toeing the party line by refusing to sign off on charges in government-opposed cases.
Under widely criticised putative reforms passed in 2014, Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana – a Hun Sen appointee and CPP central committee member – assumed control of the budgets of the courts and is the public representative of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, which promotes and disciplines judges and prosecutors.
A former Supreme Court prosecutor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said yesterday that the opposition party “never, ever wins cases in court – including the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court – because the orders come from top politicians”.
“The junior leaders cannot oppose them . . . The CNRP loses permanently,” he said.
“How can you make your own side lose?” he asked, referring to judges’ links to the CPP. “This impacts the judges’ decisions 100 percent.”
Read the full story here.
Reporting by Mech Dara and Daphne Chen
Welcome to our live blog, where we will be posting the latest updates on a highly contentious court case which could lead to the dissolution of Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. A result or postponement is expected Thursday morning. Check back for details.