Saturday, 22 August 2009

Man denies penning leaflets

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 21 August 2009
Meas Sokchea

Claims he has gone into hiding for fear that authorities will try to arrest him.

A man whose name appeared on hundreds of leaflets accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of corruption has been forced into hiding for fear of government reprisals.

The leaflets, penned by an anonymous author and posted around the streets of the capital in the early hours of Wednesday morning, condemned the premier as an "absolute leader" and "puppet of Vietnam".

Bearing a small picture of the prime minister, they accused him of destroying the Khmer regime's once-great reputation and "selling the nation".

Scribbled in Khmer handwriting at the top of the papers were five names: Pan Sovanny, Sreng Vuthy, Chea Socheap, Chim Thoeun and Kem Sopheak. Although nothing is yet known of the identity of the first four, Kem Sopheak - who claimed to be a Sam Rainsy Party activist, on Thursday contacted the Post by phone to deny any involvement.

"I'm scared for my safety", Kem Sopheak said. "I don't know what to think. I have nothing to do with these leaflets. I didn't even know about them until my nephew saw one with my name on it at Wat Phnom and contacted me straight away."

Sopheak said he had been an SRP activist since 1996. On hearing of

their intervention, but was told by SRP headquarters that the party had no record of his membership and would have to hand him over to the United Nations.

SRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann confirmed the party had been approached by Kem Sopheak, but was unable to confirm his involvement with the opposition party.

Yim Sovann insisted, however, that the party would do everything in its power to help Kem Sopheak.

"We asked to see his party card, but he couldn't produce it", Sovann said.

"We don't know where he lives, so we cannot confirm whether he is a member of our party. However, we do not discriminate. He is Khmer, and if he was threatened in any way, we would take pity on him and help him. To that end, we have taken him to a human rights organisation."

Christophe Peschoux, head of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Cambodia, confirmed Thursday that the organisation had spoken with Kem Sopheak.

"We interviewed him already, and now we're looking into the story to establish what's going on," Peschoux said. "At this stage, it seems very murky."

I don't know why anyone would put my name on that leaflet.

Kem Sopheak told the Post he was in hiding and was afraid of having legal action taken against him.

"I can't tell anyone where I'm staying because I'm scared the government will arrest me", he said.

"I don't know why anyone would put my name on that leaflet. It couldn't have been me: I can only read a little bit and cannot write at all."

Posted in various public places in Phnom Penh before being torn down by police, the leaflets called on the people of Cambodia to oppose Hun Sen's "puppet regime". "I remember the time when Khmer glory was well-known all over the world," one leaflet seen by the Post reads.

"We were feared and admired for our civilisation, culture and fine arts, but all that has now disappeared because of the absolute regime of the present government."

The government Thursday insisted Kem Sopheak had nothing to fear.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said the names on the leaflets were of no interest to officials, but that their creators were.

Three separate departments are now investigating, he said: the police, the espionage unit and the anti-terrorism squad.

Neither Phnom Penh Municipal Police chief Touch Naruth, who is heading the police investigation, nor Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could be reached for comment on Thursday.

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