A speech given by Cambodia's opposition leader in Melbourne four years ago is now being used against him as evidence of a CIA-backed conspiracy to topple the Cambodian Government.
- PM Hun Sen alleges Kem Sokha conspired with the US to start a "colour revolution"
- Hun Sen says video of Kem Sokha speaking in Melbourne is evidence of plot
- Kem Sokha's lawyer says speech talked about changing the Government through democratic means
Kem Sokha was arrested on Sunday and was charged with "conspiracy with foreign power" on Tuesday, in a case widely considered to be politically motivated.
The arrest is part of a wider crackdown on critics ahead of an election next year that — if even relatively fair — could see Prime Minister Hun Sen voted out after 32 years.
Hun Sen alleges that Kem Sokha conspired with the United States to start a "colour revolution" — like the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
"America used to do the same thing with former Cambodian army general Lon Nol in 1970 and now America doing this with Kem Sokha, so I appeal to the people please stay calm and allow the court to do its job according to the law," Hun Sen said.
This week, Hun Sen used his phone to play a video clip of Kem Sokha speaking in Melbourne, telling a crowd it was evidence of the plot.
"Before changing the top level, we need to uproot the lower one," Kem Sokha appears to say in the clip.
"The USA, which has assisted me, has asked me to take the model from Yugoslavia, Serbia, where they were able to change the dictator Milosevic.
"I don't just do what I feel, I have experts, university professors in Washington DC, Montreal, Canada hired by the Americans in order to advise me on the strategy to change the leaders."
Kem Sokha's lawyer says the speech was talking about changing the Government through democratic means.
The Cambodian Government last month ordered the expulsion of the US State Department-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) pro-democracy group.
NDI has offered advice to all political parties — including the ruling party — for many years.
From Melbourne to treason
Kem Sokha's speech was made to a room full of Cambodian-Australians and others in Melbourne in 2013.
It was broadcast via YouTube by the Australia-based Cambodian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
"[Kem Sokha] just wanted to encourage people to do [campaigning] peacefully, it's not taking up guns," said CBN producer Bunrath, who asked that the ABC did not use his surname.
"If not that [video], they would find something else to pick on anyway.
"I think they [the ruling party] don't want democracy to go on at all, they want to go back to a Communist [regime]."
Bunrath said the arrest of the opposition leader had stunned many in Australia's Cambodian community.
"Everyone was shocked … some people burst into tears," he said.
Cambodian associations in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are planning protests on Saturday.
Prime Minister's bodyguard unit ready to crack down
There was no protest planned within Cambodia due to threats of a violent crackdown.
Hun Sen's "bodyguard unit" — a well-equipped private army — put on a show of strength on Monday, with masked soldiers and artillery.
"The bodyguard unit is ready … to crack down on crimes as necessary," deputy chief of the bodyguard unit, Deang Sarun, told the Phnom Penh Post.
"When there is an issue like a protest or strike to demand something that opposes democracy or breaks the law … this force will cooperate with military police and national police to maintain security," said the unit's Bun Heang.
As hostility builds in Phnom Penh, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued an updated travel advisory.
"Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested on treason charges … this has the potential to increase domestic political tensions," wrote DFAT.
"Avoid political gatherings, protests and demonstrations."
Australia has expressed concern at Kem Sokha's arrest, as have other Western nations, but Cambodia's most powerful ally is backing Hun Sen.
When asked about Kem Sokha's arrest at a press briefing in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China "supports the Cambodian government's efforts to protect national security and stability".
Plot product of 'wild-eyed conspiracy theorists': HRW
In addition to the Melbourne speech, pro-government media have suggested a photograph of Kem Sokha's daughter having dinner with American journalist Geoffrey Cain is additional evidence.
Another photo showed the family at dinner with a man who works at the US embassy.
There have also been references to Australian filmmaker James Ricketson — who was arrested in June on espionage charges.
Mr Ricketson was making a documentary about former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, but it was not clear how he was alleged to be connected to the Kem Sokha case.
The plot has been described by Human Rights Watch as the product of "wild-eyed conspiracy theorists".
The same government mouthpiece that published the original plot allegations ran a story on Monday warning of more arrests of senior opposition figures and Kem Sokha's daughters, who are in hiding.
"Everyone that contributes to the functioning of CNRP is a target of arrest," said his daughter Monovithya Kem, who also works for the political party.
"The Government is trying to gut CNRP until we can no longer function as a viable opposition in upcoming election."
She posted a message on social media that her father reportedly passed on through his lawyer.
"I may lose freedom, but may freedom never die in Cambodia."