Updated at 4:40 p.m. ET on 2019-11-07
Malaysia allowed a senior Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official to enter the country Thursday after detaining her for about 19 hours, a Malaysian official said a day after neighboring Thailand said it would deny entry to Sam Rainsy, the exiled leader of the banned opposition party.
Rainsy and senior opposition figures are attempting to return home by Nov. 9 to lead a series of protests they say are aimed at restoring democracy in Cambodia. Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to arrest Rainsy, calling the plan part of a coup attempt.
In Paris, where Rainsy lives in exile, the Cambodian opposition leader was blocked from boarding a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok on Thursday.
Mu Sochua, deputy president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), arrived in Malaysia late Wednesday and was held for questioning about her intentions, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told reporters in parliament.
Saifuddin confirmed that Malaysia had received a request from the government of Cambodian strongman Hun Sen to deport Mu Sochua.
“We have received a request but we decide on our own,” he said, calling it “a normal request by a government that they may want us to send back certain number of people.”
Around nightfall Thursday, Malaysia Human Rights Commission Commissioner Jerald Joseph confirmed the release of Mo Sochua and two other Cambodian activists.
“Confirmed. Papers are being processed. All three will be released. I spoke to Sochua and she is OK,” Joseph told BenarNews.
He also said Sochua and two others would remain in Malaysia for three days before leaving to a third country.
“They are not going to return to Cambodia. They will stay in Kuala Lumpur for three days before heading out to a third country. That is all. I am not at a liberty to tell you more,” Joseph said.
As he responded to questions from reporters before Mu Sochua was released, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said his country did not want to be used as “a base for” political struggles in other countries.
He pointed to the ASEAN regional bloc’s non-interference policy as he explained why Malaysia had detained Mu Sochua and the other Cambodians.
“Our principle in ASEAN in particular and generally is that we don’t interfere in the internal affairs of other countries,” Mahathir said.
In Bangkok on Wednesday, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha also cited the policy that is central to how the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations operates as a bloc, when he announced that Rainsy would not be allowed to enter Cambodia from Thailand.
“According to our commitment to ASEAN, we will not interfere in each other’s internal affairs, and we will not allow an anti-government person to use Thailand for activism,” the former junta-leader turned elected premier told reporters in Bangkok.
Mu Sochua arrived in Malaysia after Cambodia’s ambassador to Indonesia barged into a press conference she was holding in Jakarta on Wednesday and told her that Cambodian police would arrest her if she did not leave the country.
Officials with Indonesia’s foreign ministry and the presidential palace declined a BenarNews request on Thursday to comment on the incident.
Meanwhile, Teddy Baguilat of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said he hoped Malaysia’s move would inspire Thailand to rethink its decision on Rainsy.
“We welcome the Malaysian authorities' decision to allow Mu Sochua, as well as Cambodian youth activists Keith Ngoeum and Seang Leang Heng to enter the country,” the former Philippine member of parliament said, adding that they should not have been detained in the first place.
“We hope that this will inspire Thailand to allow Sam Rainsy into the country and all other ASEAN countries to respect people’s fundamental rights,” he said.
Malaysia detained the two other Cambodian activists on Monday while they waited to board a flight to Thailand.
Rainsy told Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service, a sister entity of BenarNews, that a Thai Airways employee at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport informed him the company’s management had blocked his passage to Thailand. He said he purchased another air ticket to an undisclosed location in a neighboring country, and would “find a new way … to enter Cambodia” to lead protests against Hun Sen’s government.
“The [ticketing] agency of Thai Airways told me that they received an order from higher up, saying that they cannot allow me to fly to Thailand, because they know that if I go to Thailand then I will continue on to Cambodia immediately,” he said, adding that the decision was made based on “political reasons.”