In recent years, some observers have said that the exiled Cambodian Sam Rainsy lacked the courage to return to Cambodia, as he had several times announced. Yet when he took all possible steps to return to his country on November 9, it was Hun Sen’s government in Phnom Penh that did everything in its power to prevent him from setting foot in his country: a ban on airlines serving Cambodia from transporting Sam Rainsy, on pain of sanctions for “complicity with a convict”; a request to the Thai government in Bangkok to prevent Sam Rainsy from entering Cambodia by land via Thailand (as personally confirmed by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha); the mobilization of tens of thousands of soldiers and police ordered by Hun Sen to block any entry by Sam Rainsy and his supporters; and multiple preventative arrests and threats of legal action for “sedition” and “treason” against countless inhabitants of Cambodia who were preparing to welcome Sam Rainsy on his return.
Hun Sen has not hesitated to contradict himself and backpedal. After having many times threatened to arrest the “convict” Sam Rainsy – found guilty by a court under Hun Sen’s orders for purely political reasons – and to throw him into prison where he would languish for decades to atone for his crimes, the very same Hun Sen did everything he could to avoid having to arrest and imprison Sam Rainsy by simply preventing him from returning to Cambodia.
The failed return of November 9, 2019 shows who is afraid. In fact, it is Hun Sen who cannot face the idea of confronting his historical opponent on the political level on Cambodia’s soil. Sam Rainsy has always counted exclusively on peaceful struggle through free and fair elections to bring about change in our country.
In February 2017, Sam Rainsy stood down as the leader of the CNRP in attempt to prevent his politically motivated convictions from being used as a pretext to dissolve the party. Kem Sokha, who took over as leader, is currently standing trial in Phnom Penh on the bogus charge of “treason,” which was used as grounds to ban the CNRP instead. Sam Rainsy has challenged Hun Sen to allow him to stand trial in place of Kem Sokha, who was deputy leader of the CNRP when he made a speech in Australia in 2013 which is now being used by prosecutors in an attempt to substantiate their charge.
Sam Rainsy, as party leader at that time, is ready to go to Phnom Penh to face the charge in the place of his former deputy. Hun Sen has yet to show that he is brave enough to accept the challenge.
Mu Sochua is vice president and head of communications, Cambodian National Rescue Party.