Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned on Wednesday that a prominent opposition figure who lives in self-imposed exile abroad would risk being arrested if he dares to return to Cambodia as he recently promised.
The prime minister was referring to Sam Rainsy, a former leader of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved by court order last year ahead of a general election in July.
“I’m prepared to handcuff and send to prison the person who is prepared to return to Cambodia. If you dare come as you pledged, you are not a human being but an animal, a dog,” Hun Sen said in remarks to garment workers.
Hun Sen said, however, that he will not bar airlines from bringing Sam Rainsy home on their flight.
The prime minister’s remarks come after Sam Rainsy told CNRP supporters in Paris on December 16 that he will return to Cambodia next year.
“May I ask all Cambodians to rise up and join me at that time, so that we can jointly fight for real change?” he said, adding that Cambodians need to stand up against Hun Sen and restore democracy.
Sam Rainsy left the country in 2016 after being charged with defamation and incitement for accusing Hun Sen’s government of involvement in the murder of a political activist. In early 2017, Sam Rainsy resigned as head of the CNRP.
Sam Rainsy faces convictions in Cambodia for defamation and disinformation.
The CNRP was dissolved in November last year and 118 top party members were banned from politics, in a move seen by many as an attempt by the Hun Sen government to eliminate any real opposition ahead of the July election.
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party went on to win all seats in the National Assembly, the lower house.
On Wednesday, the prime minister also emphasised that the defunct opposition party will not be rehabilitated, and that the next general election will only be held in July 2023, rejecting a claim by Sam Rainsy that an election should be held again soon.
On the 118 CNRP members, who have been banned from politics for five years, Hun Sen said they can now request that their ban be lifted so they can re-enter politics, but that they must do so individually.