The Ministry of Justice has warned that civil servants involved in any “coup” attempt by Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), to overthrow the government will face life in prison.
Anyone else found taking part in such a plot faces a minimum of between five and 10 years in jail, it said.
The warning came after Rainsy, who is living abroad to avoid a slew of court cases and convictions, appealed on Facebook to members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the public to support his return to the Kingdom on November 9.
Rainsy called his return a movement to save Cambodian democracy and said the CNRP had prepared a budget for soldiers who defect from Prime Minister Hun Sen on his return.
“Withdraw from the treacherous, dictatorial regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen and participate with citizens standing up to demand freedom, justice and democracy under the leadership of the CNRP from November 9,” Rainsy said.
The Ministry of Justice said that “plotting to stage a coup to topple the Royal Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia is a serious crime that is punishable under Articles 451 and 452 of the Criminal Code by between 15 and 30 years in prison. If the perpetrator is a civil servant, the punishment is life imprisonment”.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said on Sunday that legal action would be taken against any civil servant or individual who participated in such a plot.
“A plot like Rainsy announced on September 15 goes beyond merely opposing the verdict of the Supreme Court. It becomes felony subversion for plotting to topple the government,” Malin said.
The Ministry of Justice said: “Any individual participating in a plot to topple the government will be charged with ‘plotting’ as stipulated in Article 453 of the Criminal Code.
“This carries a punishment of between five and 10 years in prison. The penalty increases to between 10 and 20 years if the perpetrator is a civil servant.”
Malin said “plotting” referred to supplying any form of assistance, such as publicly expressing support for Rainsy or gathering to support his return in a bid to topple the government through a coup or violent revolution that the government would not tolerate.
Any person found plotting who confessed to the authorities and cooperated in cracking down on the crime would be exempt from punishment under Article 454 of the Criminal Code.
The Ministry of Justice also appealed to people not to fall for the tricks of criminals that could lead to their arrest for plotting and them receiving a heavy punishment for their folly.
The ministry urged people to report the crime to the authorities at all levels so that legal action could be effectively taken.
Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the statement from the Ministry of Justice was a warning to citizens and civil servants alike to not become involved in treason.
“The authorities will take the strictest legal action against any individual or civil servants attempting to stage a coup to topple the legitimate government as this affects national security.
“The consequences for any official or individual participating in a plot by Sam Rainsy have been explained. Participating in a revolution against the legitimate government could result in life imprisonment,” Phea said.
Rights group Adhoc spokesman Soeng Sen Karuna called the Ministry of Justice’s announcement an act of intimidation and a restriction of the rights and freedoms of Cambodians as people would be afraid to express their opinions.
“People will be unable to accept warnings that go against the legal process,” Sen Karuna said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said: “This is yet another measure that the government has taken to close ranks among its employees to stop Sam Rainsy’s attempts to mobilise people power’ to overthrow the government on his return.”