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Cambodia's Hun Sen Vows to 'Assault' Critics Who Protest Next Month in Australia

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday warned critics he will “follow you all the way to your doorstep and beat you right there” if they joined protests in during next month’s ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney.

“To those who have planned to protest against my visit: You have to remember that it about the face of your country,” Hun Sen told a gathering of about 1,000 d factory workers in Phnom Penh.

“Go ahead with your protest. I challenge you. But be warned not to burn an effigy of me. If you do that I will go after you all the way to your house,” he said.

“I will follow you all the way to your doorstep and beat you right there,” warned the prime minister, who has faced mounting international criticism since he disbanded Cambodia’s main opposition party and jailed its leader for treason in 2017.

“You can enjoy your right to burn my effigy. I can enjoy my right to assault you. There is nothing wrong about that. You use violence on the effigy of Hun Sen. I can use violence against you,” said Hun Sen.

Adding a special threat to the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Movement (CNRM), a grouping made of the now banned former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), saying “I will assault each and every one of you.”

“I’m warning you to never show your face. As soon as you appear you will all be assaulted,” he said.

Hong Lim, an ethnic Cambodian member Australia’s Victoria state legislative assembly, told RFA’s Khmer Service the latest of Hun Sen’s frequent treats of violence against his foes “constitutes an element of terrorism.”

“We are now translating his remarks and will include them as part of the evidence for our complaint against him. We will file this complaint with Australian police and Interpol. We need to protect Australia from a terrorist like him,” said Hong Lim

A second Cambodian-Australian lawmaker, Meng-Heang Tak, said Hun Sen’s threats would fuel anger among Cambodians in Australia and backfire by bringing out more protesters burning him in effigy.

“I can see that there are elements of crime in Hun Sen’s remarks. People in Australia shall be protected by the law to enjoy their freedom of expression and peaceful protests,” he told RFA.

“His threats to people to not create the effigy of him and burn it have only encouraged more people to create more effigies and burn them,” said Meng-Heang Tak

“His advisors didn’t give him a good advice”.

As part of its protest, the CNRM vowed Wednesday to expand its boycott of companies connected to the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 32 years.

Last week the CNRM called on people not to buy products from Vital Premium Water Company beginning this week, because that company is run by Hun Sen’s daughter, Hun Mana and the water is “the spring drops of tears,” Eng Chhai Eang, a former deputy president of the CNRP, told RFA on Feb. 15.

This week the CNRM is calling for a boycott of gasoline sold by the Kampuchea Tela Company, a firm owned by Hun Mana and Hun Sen’s wife Bun Rany.

“After our first appeal for a boycott of the Vital Premium Water product, Hun Sen’s government has retaliated by filing lawsuits against our people. But we see this as a success. Some people have already stopped buying Vital and Aruna water,” Ry Kea, the general secretary of the CNRM, told RFA from California.

He said the CNRP remains focused on demanding the immediate release of party president Kem Sokha, who was arrested in September and is being tried for treason, and to reverse the Supreme Court decision that dissolved the CNRP in November.

“We are against violence,’ said Ry Kea.

He dismissed Hun Sen’s assault threats against CNRM activists as part of “his cheap leadership style.”

“This is one of the reasons we cannot allow him to stay in power. We love democracy. We are determined to stand up for it. We will continue to launch more appeals to boycott products and services by Hun Sen’s family,” Ry Kea told RFA.

The summit between Australia and leaders of the 10-member ASEAN is slated for March 17-18 in Sydney, and is to be hosted by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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Interview: ‘I Still Seek Justice For my Husband’ Kem Ley

Bou Rachana, widow of slain Cambodian government critic Kem Ley, was granted asylum in Australia and arrived with her five sons in Melbourne on Feb. 17.  She spoke to Chun Chanboth of RFA’s Khmer Service about the unresolved issues surrounding the killing and funeral her husband, who was gunned down in broad daylight in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016, 36 hours after discussing on an RFA Khmer call-in show a report by the London-based group Global Witness detailing the wealth of the family of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 32 years.

RFA: How do you feel after your arrival in Australia? What do you say to your supporters?

Bou Rachana: I am so excited that we have arrived safely in a democratic land like Australia. I am also extremely thankful to everybody who always showed concern about my safety. I have nothing to say besides that I am so happy at the moment.

RFA: Before Kem Ley’s death, were there any hints about his murder?

Bou Rachana: Before my husband was killed, I saw some police patrolling around my house a couple of times. He had also told me that some people told him to escape the country because the government would arrest him. My husband said he would not go anywhere because this is his home. After he told me about these things, I saw some police riding motorcycles around my house over several days. Two or three days later, my husband was shot.

RFA:  What is the last word you remember before he was killed on July 10, 2016?

Bou Rachana: The last word I remember from July 10, 2016 was nothing significant. We went to have breakfast together and we came back to our house, and he told me that he would go to meet some youths at the Caltex gas station. After he left home, five minutes later my nephew called me and told me that my husband was shot at the Star Mart. I did not believe them because it was so soon after he dropped me off at home that he got killed.

RFA: Did the authorities ever contact you or threaten you after the murder?

Bou Rachana: After my husband was killed, the authorities never contacted me.

RFA: Did you engage any lawyers in order to apply to see the footage in the security camera?

Bou Rachana: I have never had a lawyer. Regarding the security camera, no one had ever called me to show me the recorded video. I also have never received any court’s summons or warrant.

RFA: Oeut Ang (also known as Choub Samlab) the alleged perpetrator, said he killed Kem Ley because Kem Ley had owed him $3,000. Is that true?

Bou Rachana: It is not true. There was nothing like this involving my husband. My husband has never borrowed any money from Oeut Ang or Choub Samlab. My husband earned enough from his research projects.

RFA: Are you going to complain about your husband’s case to the international court?

Bou Rachana: I still seek justice for my husband. I won’t give up on this matter.

RFA: Can you give an answer or clarify about the lawsuit against three people in Kem Ley’s funeral commission member?

Bou Ranchna: The complaint against three people who help to manage my husband funeral is very unjust. I could not believe the Phnom Penh court ordered the arrest of innocent people. I urge the court to drop this case.

RFA: How did the three funeral commission member manage the money for the ceremony?

Bou Rachna: The three people who are members of the funeral commission did not get involved with money.

RFA: So who managed the money?

Bou Rachna: We money [members from my family and from my husband’s family] control the money. I assure you that they are clean.

Translated by Sarada Taing.

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Widow of Slain Cambodian Government Critic Kem Ley is Granted Asylum in Australia

Bou Rachana, widow of slain Cambodian social commentator and government critic Kem Ley, has been granted asylum in Australia, leaving with her five sons from Thailand and arriving in Melbourne on Feb. 17, an Australian lawmaker told RFA’s Khmer Service on Monday.

It was unclear shortly before they left whether Bou Rachana’s youngest child, a toddler, would be allowed to leave with her, as he was born in Thailand and was not given a birth certificate.

But Australian authorities convinced the Thai government to allow them all to leave together, Hong Lim, a member of Australia’s Victoria state legislative assembly, said, speaking to RFA by phone on Feb. 19.

Hong Lim said that he and the Cambodian community in Australia are “thrilled” to welcome Bou Rachana to the country.

“We think that she and her children will have much better lives here than in Cambodia,” he said.

Housing and support for the family will now have to be arranged so that Bou Rachana’s children can resume their schooling, Hong Lim said, adding that a welcoming ceremony has been planned for Bou Rachana and her family at a local temple on Saturday, Feb. 24.

Bou Rachana’s husband Kem Ley, a popular political commentator, was gunned down in broad daylight in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016, 36 hours after discussing on an RFA Khmer call-in show a report by the London-based group Global Witness detailing the wealth of the family of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 32 years.

Though authorities later charged a former soldier with the murder and sentenced him to life in prison, many in Cambodia did not believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the man over a debt.

Kem Ley’s body was kept for two weeks at a Buddhist temple before being taken to his home town in Cambodia’s Takeo province on July 24, with hundreds of thousands of mourners and supporters later attending his funeral procession.

Soon after the funeral, and fearing for their safety, Bou Rachana—then pregnant—fled with her children from Cambodia to neighboring Thailand to seek asylum in a third country. They spent over a year and a half in Thailand before being granted permission to settle in Australia.

Reported by Chun Chanboth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodian Political Opposition Movement Calls For Boycott of Firms Owned by PM's Family

A movement started by exiled opposition lawmakers in Cambodia has launched a campaign boycotting products sold by companies owned by the family of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the country’s long-time leader who is using his power to eliminate his competitors before general elections in July.

The Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM), formed by former legislators from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), called on people not to buy products from Vital Premium Water Company beginning next week, said Eng Chhai Eang, a former deputy president of the party, which was dissolved by the country’s Supreme Court in November.

The CNRM considers the drinking water produced by the company run by Hun Sen’s daughter, Hun Mana, to be “the spring drops of tears,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday.

Eng Chhai Eang also said Vital Premium Water Company is not the only company that is involved in undermining democracy and justice in Cambodia.

“It’s natural that where there is oppression there is struggle,” he said. “We have to continue our fight for justice. If we do not do anything, injustice will continue to spread. Injustice is like an early stage of cancer that needs immediate treatment before it is too late. ”

A July 2016 report by London-based Global Witness found that Hun Sen’s family members are “amassing vast personal fortunes in Cambodia’s private sector, and wield significant control across most of its lucrative industries,” with links to major international brands including Apple, Nokia, Visa, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, and Honda.

Pressure on the government

Cambodia’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in November, dissolving the CNRP for what it said was the party’s involvement in plotting a “coup” against the government.

The decision banned 118 CNRP lawmakers and senior officials from politics for five years, eliminating Prime Minister Hun Sen’s main competition ahead the elections. More than 5,000 remaining elected CNRP commune chiefs and district counselors were also removed from their positions.

Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who has lived in exile since 2015 to avoid convictions widely seen as politically motivated, created the CNRM with other party members in exile in January to keep the CNRP alive without fear of government reprisal and to undertake a nonviolent action plan to ensure that the general elections are free and fair.

The CNRM also was formed to put pressure on the government to stop its persecution of the political opposition and secure the release of former CNRP leader Kem Sokha who has been jailed on charges of “treason” and other prisoners of conscience, leaders of the movement say.

High-ranking security and defense officials in Cambodia have branded the CNRM a “terrorist” organization that wants to create chaos and violence, while the Justice Ministry has called the movement illegal.

On Thursday, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry filed a lawsuit against five top former opposition party lawmakers involved in the CNRM, including Sam Rainsy, for conducting political activities outside the country.

As part of a crackdown on opposition voices, Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have also targeted NGOs and independent media outlets, prompting international donors, including the United States and European Union, to cut funding over concerns about the legitimacy of the upcoming election.

‘A revolution in mentality’

In a related development, political opposition officials and analysts called a recently issued government white paper another attempt to justify the persecution of the CNRP, civil society organizations, and independent media.

The government issued the 132-page white paper on the political situation in Cambodia on Feb. 8.

“Real democracy in Cambodia is not being reversed or is declining,” said the report which was issued only in the Khmer language. “It is protected and strengthened commensurate with the principle of the rule of law in the context of the national interest and the people. On the contrary, only fake democracy is being uprooted.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan wrote on the messaging app Telegram on Thursday that the white paper’s purpose is to explain to Cambodians inside and outside the country the real situation there and to warn against the danger of “color revolutions” — uprisings that started in the 2000s that sought dramatic political changes and raised hopes for democratic development in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East — taking hold in Cambodia.

The paper paints peaceful protests over past election results and over land grabs, corruption cases, deforestation, and illegal logging as part of a revolution instigated by the CNRP with the assistance of foreign governments to topple the Cambodian government.

Cambodian political analyst Lao Mong said he disagrees with the white paper’s premise, telling RFA that color revolutions are not a crime and that Cambodia’s political opposition has not carried out any acts calling for a government overthrow.

He noted that Hun Sen’s 33 years in power have been marked by rampant corruption, land grabs, forced evictions, human rights violations, and extrajudicial killings.

The struggle against oppression is not a color revolution but a revolution of the mindset of Cambodians through peaceful means, Lao Mong said

“The government has also abused its powers in its leadership,” he said. “People have been oppressed and persecuted. That is why they have to stand up and fight for change. That’s a revolution in mentality. There is nothing wrong about that.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Cambodian Opposition Party Members Face Charges For Political Activities Abroad

A Cambodian court is taking legal action against five top former opposition party lawmakers and officials for continuing to conduct political activities outside the country even though their party has been dissolved by the government.

The Ministry of Interior filed a lawsuit with the court on Thursday against Sam Rainsy, former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and an elected member of parliament, lawmaker Tioulong Saumura, CNRP deputy presidents Eng Chhai Eang and Mu Sochua, and Kem Monovithya, senior public relations officer and daughter of jailed former CNRP leader Kem Sokha.

Ly Sophanna, deputy prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, told local media that judicial officials are proceeding with the case.

He said the five CNRP officials have been involved in activities outside of Cambodia as part of the new Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) founded by Sam Rainsy, who has lived in exile since 2015 to avoid convictions widely seen as politically motivated.

The movement, which is undertaking an action plan with the objective of ensuring that the general elections scheduled for July are free and fair, keeps alive the defunct CNRP without fear of government reprisal.

The Supreme Court issued a ruling in November, dissolving the CNRP for its part in plotting a “coup” against the government.

The decision banned 118 CNRP lawmakers and senior officials from politics for five years, eliminating Prime Minister Hun Sen’s main competition ahead of general elections scheduled for this July. More than 5,000 remaining elected CNRP commune chiefs and district counselors were also removed from their positions.

During a visit to southwestern Cambodia’s Takeo province on Thursday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the CNRM would be short-lived because it has no local support and was created for the sole purpose of toppling the government of Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985.

Cambodian lawyer Pheng Heng told RFA’s Khmer Service that the government has no authority to disband the CNRM.

“The Constitution of Cambodia guarantees freedom of expression to all Cambodians,” he said. “All CNRP officials, therefore, enjoy this right. On top of that, their activities outside of Cambodia do not fall within the jurisdiction of Cambodian laws. The genuine advocacy work of the CNRM for justice is legitimate and allowed by the constitution. They cannot be considered outlaws or rebels.”

Free and fair?

Meanwhile, civil society groups are concerned that the national elections will not be free and fair because of the political persecution of the opposition party, NGOs, and independent media.

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), told RFA on Thursday that his organization will not decide until  April whether to participate in national election monitoring.

The two issues bearing on the decision are the minimum standard of free and fair elections and international sanctions on electoral assistance to the NICFEC, he said.

“We … need to look into the required legal standards of free and fair elections first before we decide to take part,” he said.

The organization, which used to be funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development through the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the European Union, faces a budget squeeze because of big international donors’ sanctions on Cambodia, he said.

In September 2017, Cambodia’s government expelled NDI for allegedly operating without a valid memorandum of understanding and failing to comply with the country’s tax laws.

Sam Kuntheamy said he is now waiting to hear from Japan about possible funding for his organization because the Asian country has expressed a commitment to providing technical assistance to Cambodia’s electoral body.

Despite Japan’s pledge to continue the technical assistance, the government has consistently raised concerns about the upcoming Cambodian vote.

“It is vital to conduct the general election this July in a way that appropriately reflects the will of the people, said Kazuyuki Nakane, Japan’s foreign affairs minister, during a meeting with his Cambodian counterpart in Phnom Penh on Jan. 29.

Nakane urged the government to engage in talks with domestic political figures and create an environment where the rights of all politicians and civic groups are respected and their activities are secured.

The Cambodian side assured the Japanese official that the government would “adhere to the multiparty liberal democratic system and implement the national election this July as scheduled in a free, fair and stable manner.”

Yoeung Sotheara, former legal adviser for election watchdog Comfrel, said he has no faith in the Cambodian government’s words.

He told RFA on Thursday that though there are several political parties in Cambodia, they are too small to compete with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

On top of that, the absence of the CNRP calls into question the legitimacy of the upcoming national election, he said.

“Having many political parties does not mean that Cambodia has adopted a multiparty principle,” Yoeung Sotheara said. “Several political parties exist only as facade. Those parties are nothing but a window dressing. They do not add value to the promotion of democracy value unless they are as strong as the dissolved CNRP.”

Commune counselor fears for safety

Meanwhile in the northwestern city of Battambang, Long Nim, an elected CNRP commune counselor for Bavel district, said on Thursday that he fears for his personal safety after receiving a summons from the deputy chief of the police station in Khnach Rormeas commune.

The police want to question him on Friday about participating in humanitarian assistance work on Feb. 11 when he helped some senior citizens in the commune’s Roung Ampil village, said Long Nim.

Police officer Ao Thol has informed him that the activity is illegal, he added.

Heng Sayhong, the Battambang coordinator of the domestic rights group Adhoc, said that humanitarian activities are not illegal and that the summons is another attempt by authorities to restrict people’s rights and freedom.

Since the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP, some lawmakers and other officials have fled Cambodia out of fear for their safety, while several members of commune councils have taken refuge in Thailand and other countries. Others who have remained in the country have been subjected to harassment and bullying by authorities.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Cambodian Opposition Lawmakers Call For End to Persecution of Former Commune Chief

Several former opposition lawmakers in Cambodia have asked the United Nations human rights agency and other international organizations to stop a ruling party lawmaker from politically persecuting a former commune chief in the northwestern town of Battambang.

The 13 politicians sent letters dated Feb. 12 to Yuji Iwasawa, chairman of the U.N. Human Rights Committee under the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Rhona Smith, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union.

They requested that the organizations prevent Chheang Vun of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) from continuing to threaten and harass his main political rival Sin Chanpeou Rozeth of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Sin Chanpeou Rozeth won the O’Cha commune elections last June, becoming the only woman elected as a commune chief in Battambang.

The letter, made public today, noted that after Sin Chanpeou Rozeth took office, she was harassed and bullied by Chheang Vun and other officials who publicly took her to task for minor administrative errors during the start of her tenure and prevented her from building a drainage system in her commune.

When Cambodia’s Supreme Court, controlled by Prime Minister Hun Sen, dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, Sin Chanpeou Rozeth lost her position, forcing her to open a small restaurant to support her family, the letter said.

“This has resulted in her being accused by CPP Member of Parliament Chheang Vun of ‘conducting political activity’ within the premises of her restaurant, based on unfounded allegations that former CNRP members had been seen entering her restaurant,’ it said.

Chheang Vun also attacked Sin Chanpeou Rozeth on Facebook, saying that her eatery was a gathering place for rebel groups.

“Given the dire state of democracy and rule of law in Cambodia, as well as the myriad of court cases that are being undertaken against members of the opposition and civil society, we are extremely concerned that these allegations could turn into more serious charges,” the letter said.

The opposition politicians requested that the U.N. and other organizations raise their concerns with Heng Samrin, president of the National Assembly, and request that current lawmakers ensure the safety of Sin Chanpeou Rozeth and other CNRP officials still in Cambodia.

‘No faith in the judicial system’

In an interview with RFA’s Khmer Service, Sin Chanpeou Rozeth said fewer people have been patronizing her restaurant because they are afraid of being arrested.

When she hung a poster in the shop saying, “Rozeth’s store happily welcomes all customers but the rebels,” local authorities ordered her to remove it.

“At least for four consecutive days after Chheang Vun’s threats, my customers were scared,” she said. “Though they liked my food, they were too intimidated to come to eat at the shop because they were afraid they would be seen.”

Sin Chanpeou Rozeth said she is not considering filing a lawsuit against the members of the ruling elite for persecuting her.

“I have no faith in the judicial system,” she said. “I would like to call on them to stop persecuting me and my business. I am just an ordinary citizen who runs an honest business for a living. … I want to request that ruling party politicians not use threats to intimidate us.”

When the CRNP was dissolved, 55 elected lawmakers and 63 senior officials from the party were banned from politics for up to five years, while the more than 5,000 remaining elected CNRP commune chiefs and district counselors were removed from their positions by the ruling party.

Some lawmakers and other officials have fled Cambodia for fear of their safety, while several members of commune councils have taken refuge in Thailand and other countries.

The action was part of a crackdown on the opposition by Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, to ensure he remains in office following a general election scheduled for July.

In a further measure to stifle the opposition, Cambodian lawmakers on Wednesday unanimously approved amendments that could further limit free speech and political activities and passed a lese-majeste law that makes insulting the royal family a criminal offense.

Thak Lany defamation case

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s Supreme Court will hold a hearing on Feb. 26 involving Senator Thak Lany, a Sam Rainsy Party member who went into exile after Hun Sen filed a defamation suit against her.

The senator and others, including former CNRP president Sam Rainsy and social and political commentator Kim Sok, accused the government of being behind the July 2016 assassination of Kem Ley, a prominent political analyst, scholar, and Hun Sen critic.

In November 2016, a Cambodian court sentenced Thak Lany in absentia to one and a half years in prison and fined her fine her 8 million riel ($U.S. 2,000) for incitement and defamation, after she had been stripped of her parliamentary immunity.

Thak Lany has previously denied making the remarks, saying that her comments were edited to make her look like she was lodging the criticism.

Sam Rainsy has lived in exile since 2015 to avoid convictions widely seen as politically motivated. Kim Sok was sentenced in August 2017 to 18 months in prison on charges of defamation and incitement to cause social disorder and ordered to pay hefty fines to the prime minister and the country’s government.

Kem Ley was shot dead in broad daylight when he stopped in a convenience store beside a gas station in the capital Phnom Penh.

Though authorities charged a former soldier with the murder and sentenced him to life in prison, many in Cambodia did not believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the man over a debt.

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on an RFA call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of Hun Sen’s family.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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