Sar Kheng: CNRP who respect court likely for a return

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Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at a workshop in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. He said he welcomes RFA and VOA reopening their offices. Heng Chivoan

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said the majority of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials who were banned by the Supreme Court from engaging in political activities for five years might be able to resume their political careers, provided they have adhered to the ruling.

The deputy prime minister said this when speaking at a workshop introducing the duties and obligations of the National Committee Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and the Implementation of International Human Rights Law on Tuesday.

He also welcomed the reopening of the Cambodian offices of radio stations Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

Sar Kheng’s words came after 87 lawmakers proposed an amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political parties, which would allow the prime minister to request King Norodom Sihamoni to return full political rights to those who have had them removed by the courts.

He pointed out that the majority of the former senior CNRP officials who fell under the court ban had respected its decision, while only a small number had not. The lawmakers had proposed the amendment so that those who adhered to the law could have their rights returned, he said.

“Among the 118 [CNRP] politicians [barred from politics], only a few do not respect the Supreme Court’s decision while most of them have. In fact, the majority have respected the court’s decision and we need to accept this truth."

“The amendment proposal aims to withdraw the ban [for these],” he said.

He said while the government was continuing to strengthen democracy for social and economic development, improving people’s living standards and development of the Kingdom, it was also putting in effort to solve any perceived problems.

Regarding possible problems facing NGOs, Sar Kheng said the Ministry of Interior has worked to improve relations with civil society organisations.

He said the Ministry of Interior studies their opinions, recommendations and criticisms, while it has also brought the request for an amendment to the Law on Associations and NGOs up for discussion.

He said he had accepted the request for consideration. “I have received it. Not all of our comments are correct, but not all of them are incorrect; not all of the NGO’s opinions are right and not all of them are wrong. We accept the proper ones and we will not take the wrong ones,” he said.

However, Sar Kheng warned that despite creating mechanisms to address and find solutions to the difficulties facing civil society, if NGOs did not respect the law, the government would enforce it.

Regarding RFA, VOA and shuttered newspaper the Cambodia Daily, Sar Kheng said RFA and VOA have the right to reopen their offices as the government had not forced them to close, rather both radio stations had shut down voluntarily.

He said he welcomed RFA and VOA reopening their offices, but the Cambodia Daily would have to pay its tax bill first as its closure came because it did not pay it.

“For VOA and RFA, no one has shut them down, they shut themselves down. They just said they got this and that pressure, but in fact, there was no pressure. It is not right to talk like that. Unless there is a written document or action serving as evidence threatening you to close, you cannot say that.

“No one banned them but they just felt scared by themselves and they closed their offices by themselves, but they said they were threatened. Now we welcome both radio [stations] to open their offices in Phnom Penh again,” he said.

RFA decided to close its offices on September 10, last year, while the Cambodia Daily ceased publishing on September 4 the same year, after receiving a $6 million tax bill it did not pay.

Analyst Meas Nee said he believed the amendment proposal to allow those banned to have their political rights returned, and Sar Kheng welcoming the reopening of RFA and VOA came under pressure from the international community.

“This is the result of negotiations between Cambodian senior officials and the EU, and it is a result of the government [tackling] other political problems,” he said.