About 10,000 Cambodians protested in the capital Phnom Penh to show their anger at an opposition leader who allegedly described a notorious Khmer Rouge prison as a Vietnamese invention.
The rally came two days after parliament passed a law banning the denial of atrocities committed by the hardline communist regime — a move which the opposition claimed was politically motivated before elections in July.
In a recording posted on a government website last month, the deputy head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Kem Sokha, purportedly said that Tuol Sleng prison in the capital Phnom Penh was staged by Vietnamese soldiers who ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
The CNRP has said his remarks were doctored to cause “political trouble” before the July 28 elections, when Prime Minister Hun Sen is seeking to extend his nearly three decades in power.
Survivors from Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, urged Kem Sokha to apologise as protesters gathered in a park in Phnom Penh before marching to the headquarters of the CNRP.
Local media reported thousands of people also came out in many provinces across the country Sunday to protest at the remarks.
Around 15,000 men, women and children from Tuol Sleng were tortured and executed during the “Killing Fields” era.
The former head of the prison, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was sentenced last year to life in jail.
Protesters carried banners reading: “Kem Sokha is the first person who dares to insult the souls of all victims from Pol Pot’s regime” and “Kem Sokha is more cowardly than Duch”.
Hun Sen has repeatedly said that the country risks civil war and even a return of the Khmer Rouge if the opposition wins the election.
His main opponent Sam Rainsy is barred from running due to convictions which he contends are politically motivated.
Under the new law, which was approved Friday by a parliament controlled by lawmakers from Hun Sen’s ruling party, anyone denying Khmer Rouge atrocities risks a prison sentence of up to two years.
Led by “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge from 1975-79 wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.