Prime Minister Hun Sen has made a public request that the judiciary consider withdrawing an arrest warrant for Seng Sary, a political analyst and social development researcher facing prosecution for comments he made recently on social media.
On September 17, the court issued the warrant after Sary outlined six hypothetical scenarios for the formation of a coalition government that included Sam Rainsy – the former leader of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party – along the lines of the short-lived political reconciliation in Myanmar between the military and ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, prior to the country’s reversion to military rule recently.
On July 21, Sary wrote an essay providing his analysis of Rainsy’s recent proposals for the formation of a national unity government and posted it to his Facebook page.
In the article, Sary says there are six major forces that could change Cambodian politics: Opposition party supporters, a mass movement, a youth movement, conflicts within the ruling party, the armed forces and the international community or Cambodia’s neighbours using military forces to intervene.
Hun Sen wrote on his official Facebook page on September 20 that after listening to Sary’s interview with The Cambodia Daily on September 18, it became clear to him that Sary was only engaging in a hypothetical discussion of these scenarios as an academic exercise rather than advocating that any of them should take place.
The prime minister said he considered Sary’s explanation to be reasonable and acceptable and called on the judiciary to consider withdrawing the arrest warrant.
“I would also like to encourage Dr Seng Sary to continue with his research and analysis of social issues for the benefit of social science research in Cambodia. I would also like to tell his wife, children and parents not to worry,” he said.
Sary made a statement thanking the prime minister for taking the time to examine what he had written in order to fully understand the purpose of it. He said this was a promising sign that the political space in Cambodia was opening up once again to allow for reasonable discussion and dissent.
“I think it is in the interest of the government to take into account the input and analysis of intellectuals who may have opposing ideas in order to address Cambodia’s social and political issues,” he said.
Reached by The Post for comment on September 20, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the prime minister had simply asked the court to consider withdrawing the arrest warrant, which he said did not constitute interference with the independence of the judiciary.
“What the prime minister said about the issuance of the arrest warrant was an expression of his opinion. It’s not an order to the court and ... the decision is up to the court,” he said
Am Sam Ath, deputy director for rights group Licadho, agreed with Hun Sen’s call for the case to be dropped. He said Sary was an intellectual who contributed to society through intelligent and informed analysis and a man of his education and experience had much to contribute to the development of the nation.
“Sary’s analysis was just a set of speculative scenarios. It’s just an expression of his thoughts or ideas. And if we consider all those scenarios and how they could affect the nation by halting development or causing disunity, we can use his analysis to recognise and avoid them,” he said.
Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, also agreed with Hun Sen’s suggestion that the judiciary reverse course on proceeding with Sary’s case. He said the call was a thoughtful gesture that was good for the cohesion of Cambodian society.
However, he noted that merely being an academic or political analyst should not shield a person from the consequences of their actions should they choose to publish something that is detrimental to national interests, damaging to social stability or simply untrue and defamatory.
“If someone’s goal is to darken society and spread pessimism or social unrest, I don’t think that sort of writing should be encouraged. Analysts should always consider what the purpose of their writing actually is and whether it is beneficial to society or for personal gains, social prestige or because they want to be able to move to another country [through political asylum],” he said.