Cambodia’s ruling party has backed off of earlier threats it would request that the government of South Korea extradite members of the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) as they gather in Gwangju this weekend in protest of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime.
The CNRP’s youth president in South Korea Yim Sinorn recently said in a post on his Facebook account that he is organizing a candlelight demonstration in Gwangju on Saturday led by acting party president Sam Rainsy to “liberate Cambodia’s democracy from dictator Hun Sen,” following a meeting on Friday of the party’s top officials and activists from Europe, North America and Australia.
In response to the post, Cambodia’s government spokesman Phay Siphan claimed that Hun Sen would orchestrate the arrest of Sam Rainsy and other CNRP leaders and supporters during their visit to South Korea, saying “Cambodia can take legal action against demonstrators overseas, if need be.”
The CNRP is banned in Cambodia but has regrouped and is active outside the country.
On Thursday, ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Ey San walked back the threat, telling RFA’s Khmer Service, “We don’t intend to cause any harm to them—we’ll allow them to have rights.”
Sok Ey San dismissed the planned demonstration in Gwangju as insignificant and suggested that “only a few people will turn out” in support of the opposition party, which was banned by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017 for its role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government, paving the way for the CPP to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
Phay Siphan’s threat to extradite demonstrators from South Korea came after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered authorities earlier this month to arrest Sam Rainsy and seven other former CNRP lawmakers on charges of “incitement” after they pledged to raise money to support Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia this year from self-imposed exile to lead CNRP supporters inside the country.
On Thursday, analyst Lao Mong Hay told RFA that the government threats amounted to “propaganda” aimed at discouraging people from attending the demonstration, adding that South Korea would never honor a request to extradite opposition leadership and supporters.
“South Korea doesn’t work like Cambodia—Cambodia has no rule of law,” he said.
Even if Seoul would consider such as request, Lao Mong Hay said, Cambodia’s government would have to first submit it through South Korea’s court system.
Cambodia’s National Assembly adopted an extradition agreement between Cambodia and South Korea in 2010, under which each party pledged to repatriate any person facing criminal accusations or trial.
Cambodia has also signed extradition agreements with China, Australia, Laos, and Thailand.