PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian court charged six opposition activists on Wednesday with leading an insurrection after clashes with security forces, deepening a year-long political crisis after a disputed election.
Five members of parliament and an assistant, all members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), were ordered detained pending trial and taken to prison in a heavily guarded convoy as hundreds of supporters stood outside the court demanding their release.
One of the accused, prominent parliamentarian Mu Sochua, issued a Facebook post confirming the charges of leading an insurrection, which carries a penalty of 20 to 30 years in prison, and incitement to violence.
“This is all unconstitutional as our parliamentary immunity has not yet been lifted,” Mu Sochua wrote. “We call on all to stay united and continue our fight for freedom , human rights and liberties.”
Opposition activists clashed on Tuesday with security forces after attempting to reopen Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, the only place where protests are legally allowed under Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power in various capacities since 1985.
Guards at the site attacked the CNRP supporters with batons and riot police fired teargas after the activists tried to string up banners on a barbed wire fence surrounding the park. The government said 37 security guards were injured.
CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha, speaking before the charges were laid, said the opposition would hold the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) responsible for any violence should the members of parliament be jailed.
He said the CNRP would seek help from embassies to secure their release and had no wish to organise mass demonstrations.
“We want them released as soon as possible. We don’t want things to heat up,” he told a news conference.
The government accused the opposition activists of provoking violence to destabilise the country.
“A handful of CNRP leaders had a premeditated plot and instigated their extremist supporters, armed with batons and other deadly objects, brutally attacking security personnel,” it said in a statement.
The opposition has been leading a campaign against Hun Sen since accusing his CPP of vote-rigging last year to stay in power in an election which saw big opposition gains. Hun Sen and his government dismiss any such accusations.
The opposition has staged mass rallies to press for an early election or Hun Sen’s resignation, joined by factory workers who went on strike last year over the government’s refusal to meet demands for higher pay.
Five workers were killed in January when security forces fired live ammunition to disperse striking garment workers and security guards have consistently broken up protests.
Editing by Ron Popeski