Khmer News in En

Cambodian Journalists Urge Court to Drop ‘Espionage’ Case Against Former RFA Reporters

Dozens of journalists have signed an open letter calling for a court in Cambodia’s capital to drop its case against two former RFA reporters arrested last week and accused of “espionage,” saying the charges are having a chilling effect on the media and restricting press freedom.

Former RFA Khmer Service reporters Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were taken into custody on Nov. 14 by police who initially said they were detained for running an unlicensed karaoke studio.

They were later accused of setting up a studio for RFA and formally charged over the weekend with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source,” which carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years.

RFA closed down its operations in Cambodia in September amid a crackdown on the media, and the two reporters—who are being held in pre-trial detention in Prey Sar Prison—have denied the charges against them. RFA has confirmed that it no longer employs the pair.

In an open letter dated Nov. 19, 60 Cambodian journalists called on the Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor and investigating judge to consider dropping the case.

“We would like to express our deep concerns in the letter, signed with thumbprints, that the charge against two RFA journalists is very severe,” the journalists wrote.

“In a democracy, the press plays a significant role in disseminating the truth to citizens. Journalists also play a key role in reporting facts to the public. The charges bring fear to Cambodian journalists and put freedom under threat.”

The letter noted that Cambodia’s constitution guarantees the right of all Cambodians to express their personal opinions, and protects the freedom of the press, publication, and assembly.

Cambodian journalists “have adhered to … the press law” of 1995, the letter added, Article 5 of which stipulates that reporters have the right of access to information in government-held records, except for any information which causes harm to national security or relations with other countries.

“Therefore, we as the journalists would like to respectfully ask the court to consider dropping the charge,” it said.

Ongoing crackdown

Hun Sen’s government has faced widespread condemnation in recent months over its actions against the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), as well as for orchestrating the closure of independent media outlets and cracking down on nongovernmental organizations, ahead of general elections scheduled for July 2018.

Last week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement urged Cambodian authorities to “immediately release [Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin] and drop any charges against them.”

CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin called for “an end to the official intimidation of all journalists in Cambodia,” adding that “Prime Minister Hun Sen’s reputation as a democratic leader is at a new low” amid his crackdown on the media.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also called for the release of the journalists in a statement last week, with Asia-Pacific desk chief Daniel Bastard saying that their cases “clearly show that the law and the judicial system are being used to suppress any independent reporting and, above all, to intimidate the entire press.”

RSF ranked Cambodia 132nd out of 180 countries in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, and warned that the Southeast Asian nation is “liable to fall” in next year’s index.

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Opposition Members Quit Cambodia’s Electoral Body in Protest of Party’s Dissolution

Three opposition members of Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) resigned from their posts Monday in protest of a court ruling to dissolve their party and recently adopted laws that will see its parliamentary seats and commune councilor positions reassigned to government-aligned parties.

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) members Kuoy Bunroeun, Rong Chhun, and Te Manirong submitted letters of resignation to National Assembly president Heng Samrin expressing concern over the Supreme Court’s Nov. 16 decision to ban the party for its part in plotting a “coup” against the government, eliminating Prime Minister Hun Sen’s main competition ahead of an election next year.

CNRP President Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept. 3 for allegedly collaborating with the U.S. to overthrow the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and the court ruling found the opposition party guilty of involvement in the “conspiracy.”

The three NEC members also voiced frustration over recently amended electoral laws that will see the CNRP’s 55 seats in the National Assembly and more than 5,000 commune councilor positions won in local elections in June distributed to other minor political parties.

“We feel obliged to resign, for we would have betrayed our wisdom and conscience and acted against the will of the voters had we continued working with the NEC, given the recent developments,” the letters read.

“We do not wish to have a bad name in history.”

Since last week’s decision, the CNRP’s elected officials have been prevented from continuing their work, while authorities have removed billboards, flags and other opposition paraphernalia around the country.

The court ruling has drawn condemnation from governments and NGOs across the globe, who say it has compromised the legitimacy of general elections set for July 2018 and have urged Cambodia’s government to reverse an ongoing crackdown on the opposition, media, and civil society groups.

Kuoy Bunroeun, Rong Chhun, and Te Manirong had been nominated by the CNRP to the NEC as part of a post-election agreement between the opposition and CPP in 2014. With their departure, the body is left with six members: four nominees from the CPP, “neutral” member Hang Puthea, and CNRP nominee Hing Thirith, who has given no indication he intends to leave.

The Phnom Penh Post cited legal officer for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) Yoeurng Sotheara as saying that the departures had left the NEC without legitimacy, and calling into question the process of appointing new members to the electoral body.

Defiant leader

In the face of criticism over his government’s actions in recent months, Hun Sen remained defiant, telling around 5,000 workers in Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich township Friday that he welcomed threats of sanctions and the withdrawal of aid—particularly from the U.S.

The prime minister said Cambodia is more than capable of surviving with assistance from China—one of the few countries to support his Southeast Asian nation following last week’s court ruling—and suggested that only those NGOs relying on U.S. funding would be affected by any punitive measures.

“I wholeheartedly welcome the U.S. to cut off its aid to the NEC—I really welcome that,” he said.

“You talk about democracy, yet you will cut aid to the NEC. You have not just failed to defeat me, but you have also involved yourself in killing democracy in Cambodia.”

Hun Sen went on to propose that the U.S. “cut off all aid to Cambodia entirely,” which he said would result in the “death of all local NGOs.”

“Go ahead and kill your own offspring … those who die first will be the NGOs that are plotting against us,” he said.

“We need to be defiant. We used to eat banana stumps and fought Pol Pot [during the Khmer Rouge regime], so we are not intimidated by such threats.”

The prime minister said that all NGOs in the country “will be audited soon” to determine how their funding is used, and that those found to be “spending money in Cambodia to destroy us … will not be spared.”

He also lashed out at CNRP supporters who held peaceful protests against election results in late 2013 and early 2014, accusing them of involvement in a “plot to overthrow the government” and saying he had only recently seen a video of the demonstrations that would have driven him to “execute” them, had he seen the clip at the time they were staged.

“You [protesters] are lucky [to be alive] because I didn’t see the video clip back then,” he said.

“If I had seen it at that point, I would have order the killing of all of you in just a few hours. I would not have allowed you to protest. I view that as a moment of life or death, because you declared war.”

‘Irresponsible and dangerous’

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay told RFA’s Khmer Service that Hun Sen’s comments were “brutal” and “unbefitting of a leader.”

“On top of that, they were against the military code of conduct and our constitution. There is no provision for capital punishment in Cambodia’s constitution.”

Brad Adams, deputy director for New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told RFA the prime minister’s remarks amounted to a crime under Cambodian and international law, and were meant to incite violence.

“This is really an incredible thing for the head of a government, a prime minister, to say that he wants to murder his own citizens on the streets of Cambodia,” Adams said.

“It just goes to show that Hun Sen is not fit to be in office, he’s not fit to lead a country—he’s irresponsible and dangerous.”

Adams said that many people within Hun Sen’s own party, and among the police and military, “don’t like him” and do not want to be associated with the prime minister’s comments and actions.

“There’s a huge amount of resentment inside the CPP and I believe one day it is going to boil over,” he said.”

“He’s not allowing the public to make the decisions, and therefore it may turn out to be a decision made within the CPP against him.”

Richard Rogers, a partner at the London-based law firm Global Diligence who filed a 2014 complaint with the International Criminal Court in The Hague on behalf of Cambodian victims of land grabs, told RFA Hun Sen appears willing to “kill as many of his own people as it takes to crush opposition to his one-man rule.”

“These are not the words of a modern leader fit for the 21st century—these are the words of a despot dictator from last century,” Rogers said.

“These are the words of a leader who knows he must rule from fear because his people no longer like or respect him and he knows that, given the chance, the people will choose a new leader,” he added.

Rogers said that Hun Sen is caught in a “spiral of paranoia” and will soon be targeting his own supporters.

“We all know where this story ends up … Once he’s murdered enough opposition, once he’s silenced the democratic space, then he will start to kill his own people, and maybe his own family.”

Opposition in exile

Since Kem Sokha’s arrest, more than half of CNRP lawmakers, along with deputy presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang and a number of party activists, have fled Cambodia fearing retaliation by the CPP following important electoral gains by the opposition in June’s commune ballot, which are seen as pointing to a strong showing in next year’s vote.

On Monday, Cheav Chiv, the head of the CNRP in Cambodia’s Battambang province, told RFA that around 40 party members had left the country since the Nov. 16 Supreme Court decision because local authorities were harassing them about defecting to the CPP.

“They had to flee in order to be avoid persecution and harassment by ruling party members,” he said.

“Everyone knows that there is no justice in Cambodia under Hun Sen. The courts are entirely influenced by the ruling party.”

Chak Butha, the CNRP chief of Prek Chik commune, in Battambang’s Rukhak Kiri district, said he had been repeatedly targeted by CPP members and local authorities as part of a bid to get him to defect.

“The ruling party people continue to try to lure me into joining them, saying I am a good man,” he said.

“I have told them that as long as I can still breathe, I will never join them.”

Meanwhile, around 400 Cambodians joined former CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who has been living in self-imposed exile since 2015 to avoid convictions many see as politically motivated, and exiled party lawmakers in Lowell, Massachusetts on Monday in protest of Hun Sen’s crackdown and to discuss the next steps for the opposition.

Sam Rainsy resigned in February in order to preserve the CNRP in the face of a law that bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party.

Also on Monday, members of the Cambodian diaspora in Europe delivered petitions signed by more than 1,600 people to the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, calling for the EU to level sanctions against Hun Sen’s government unless he frees Kem Sokha and ends restrictions on the opposition, media, and NGOs, in order to ensure free and fair elections next year.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia’s Opposition CNRP May Appeal Dissolution Case to International Criminal Court

Cambodia’s opposition party may appeal to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to reverse a decision to dissolve it, one of the party’s deputy presidents said Friday, as the international community continued to heap scorn on the country’s judiciary over what is seen as a politically motivated verdict.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that the country’s opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) be dissolved for its part in plotting a “coup” against the government, essentially eliminating any competition to Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of a general election next year.

CNRP President Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept. 3 for allegedly collaborating with the U.S. to overthrow the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and Thursday’s decision found the opposition party guilty of involvement in the “conspiracy.”

On Friday, CNRP Deputy President Eng Chhay Eang told RFA’s Khmer Service that Cambodia’s judiciary is “damaged by political bias,” noting that his party hadn’t bothered to appoint a lawyer in the case heard by the Supreme Court, whose nine-member bench is filled with senior members and close affiliates of the ruling party.

Instead, the CNRP may bring the case to The Hague-based ICC in a bid to go above Cambodia’s court system and have the Supreme Court’s ruling reversed.

“We have no faith in Cambodian courts, as Hun Sen is above all of them,” said the deputy president, who along with more than half of CNRP lawmakers have fled Cambodia since Kem Sokha’s arrest, fearing retaliation by the CPP following important electoral gains by the opposition in June’s commune ballot.

“Whatever he wants, the courts agree to, so it was pointless to have any lawyers represent the CNRP in such a politically motivated case,” he added.

“Instead, we will consult with legal experts on the possibility of bringing this case to the attention of the ICC.”

Brad Adams, New York-based Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, said his organization has long advocated for the ICC to investigate Cambodia, based on what he said were a laundry list of abuses perpetrated by the government against the country’s opposition.

“Hun Sen is engaged in systematic violence against the opposition—he has ruled with impunity,” Adams said of the political strongman, who has controlled Cambodia for more than 30 years.

“Cambodia under Hun Sen has not been willing or able to prosecute the people responsible for serious human rights abuses.”

Richard Rogers, a partner at the London-based law firm Global Diligence who filed a 2014 complaint with the ICC on behalf of victims of land grabs and a 2016 legal brief on last year’s murder of government critic Kem Ley, told RFA earlier this month that the ICC has jurisdiction over Cambodia in cases concerning political repression.

“Many of the crimes that relate to the current crackdown would fall under the umbrella of crimes against humanity … and that’s why the ICC has jurisdiction,” Rogers said at the time.

In March 2002, Cambodia ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court—the treaty that established the ICC—and in doing so gave the court jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory or by its citizens beginning on July 1 that year.

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan on Friday dismissed any suggestion that the ICC could reverse the decision to dissolve the CNRP, saying “the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction over Cambodia.”

Only around a dozen cases have made it to the ICC’s preliminary examination stage after filing complaints in the 14-year history of the court.

Criticism continues

As the CNRP mulled whether to appeal its case to an international tribunal Friday, condemnation continued to pour in from around the globe over the Supreme Court’s decision to shut down the opposition party and ban 118 of its members from politics for the next five years.

The White House said in a statement late on Thursday that the U.S. will begin taking “concrete steps to respond to the Cambodian government’s deeply regrettable actions” by terminating support for Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) and its administration of the July 2018 general election.

“On current course next year’s election will not be legitimate, free, or fair,” the statement said, urging Cambodia’s government to reinstate the CNRP, release Kem Sokha, and reverse a crackdown in recent months on civil society and the media.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which in April announced a grant of U.S. $1.8 million to support the NEC’s work during commune and general elections, expressed “gravest concern” over the ruling, calling on Cambodia to stop targeting the CNRP and interfering in the work of NGOs.

In a statement issued by Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maja Kocijancic, the European Union threatened to withdraw its support of Cambodia’s electoral process unless a situation in which all parties, their leaders, and their supporters are able to freely participate is “swiftly restored.”

“An electoral process from which the main opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded is not legitimate,” the statement said, adding that “respect of fundamental human rights is a prerequisite” for Cambodia to continue to benefit from EU assistance.

The Ministries of Foreign Affairs for Australia and Sweden also voiced concerns over the verdict and urged Cambodia to reverse course, with the latter vowing to “review the forms of our engagement” with Phnom Penh.

In statements Friday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein voiced concerns over the legitimacy of Cambodia’s upcoming elections in light of the ruling, while the Inter-Parliamentary Union said the foundation of Cambodia’s democracy had been threatened.

China was one of the few nations to speak out in support of the decision, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang telling reporters at a briefing Friday that Beijing would stand behind Cambodia in pursuing its own development path.

Diaspora speaks

Meanwhile, CNRP supporters in Europe released a statement Friday accusing Hun Sen of “killing democracy in Cambodia” and calling on members of the Cambodian diaspora to gather in France this weekend to demonstrate against the government’s actions.

The supporters will meet on Nov. 19 in Paris to demand a reversal of the Supreme Court ruling, call on all Cambodians to stand up for the protection of human rights and freedom in Cambodia, and urge the U.N. and the international community to level sanctions against Hun Sen’s regime.

Hun Sen has announced that when the CNRP is dissolved, its parliamentary seats will be redistributed to other government-aligned political parties, and has pressured CNRP officials who were elected in the June commune ballot to defect to the CPP.

At present, the CNRP holds 55 seats in the National Assembly, around 5,000 councilor positions at the commune level, and nearly 800 provincial/municipal level councilor positions after strong showings in recent elections, and counts more than three million active supporters in Cambodia.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia’s Supreme Court Rules to Dissolve Opposition Party

Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the country’s opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) be dissolved for its part in plotting a “coup” against the government, essentially eliminating any competition to Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of a general election next year.

The ruling on a case widely seen as politically motivated, and decided by a court populated by officials loyal to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), was largely expected amid a crackdown by the government in recent months on the opposition, independent media, and nongovernmental organizations.

Chief judge Dith Munty, a senior member of the CPP, announced the nine-member unanimous ruling in the capital Phnom Penh, and ordered 118 CNRP members banned from politics for the next five years. No appeal will be permitted, he said.

The CNRP issued a statement saying it refused to recognize the verdict, adding that the court had denied the party’s  more than three million supporters their right to be represented in elections in July 2018. The CNRP intends to maintain its leadership structure, helmed by President Kem Sokha, who has been in pre-trial detention since early September following his arrest on charges of “treason.”

“The CNRP urges the international community to take concrete measures to rescue Cambodia in a timely manner by pressuring the government to release Kem Sokha and recognize the roles of the opposition party in order to ensure a free and fair election,” the statement said.

Kem Sokha’s lawyer, Hem Socheat, told RFA’s Khmer Service he was surprised that Thursday’s ruling could not be appealed and suggested that parliament’s Constitutional Council be made to explain the legislation that rendered the verdict final.

Immediately following the decision, Hun Sen posted a video clip to his Facebook account urging CNRP lawmakers and officials to take advantage of “a very rare opportunity … to join the CPP,” echoing similar calls he has made in recent weeks calling on the opposition to defect.

“If you do not join us and fail to hand over your stamps [for approving documents] then you will face legal action,” he warned.

Remaining loyal

But CNRP members said they would remain loyal to their party and continue to work on behalf of their constituents.

Sin Chanpeou Rozeth, CNRP chief of Battambang’s Au Char commune, told RFA that the government had only dissolved his party “on paper” but “cannot still the hearts and souls of our supporters.”

“As long as we still breathe, we remain hopeful that we will win,” he said.

“We will continue to fight for democracy and positive change in a democratic election. The ruling party continues to harbor their ill will to pressure and cajole members of the CNRP to defect. However, we remain strong and united.”

The evidence presented against Kem Sokha so far is a video recorded in 2013 in which he discusses a strategy to win power at the ballot box with the help of U.S. experts—though the U.S. embassy has rejected any suggestion that Washington is interfering in Cambodian politics—and the government initiated legal proceedings against the CNRP for its alleged involvement in his case.

Since Kem Sokha’s arrest, more than half of CNRP lawmakers, along with deputy presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang and a number of party activists, have fled Cambodia fearing retaliation by the CPP following important electoral gains by the opposition in June’s commune ballot, which are seen as pointing to a strong showing in next year’s vote.

Speaking from exile, Eng Chhay Eang told RFA Thursday that the CNRP plans to hold several meetings with party officials around the world to discuss “our detailed future action plan.”

“I call on all CNRP officials and supporters to remain strong, hopeful, and defiant,” he said.

“Never give up. We shall continue our mission to rescue our nation.”

Cambodia’s government had built up the presence of security forces across the country in anticipation of a public outcry in response to Thursday’s court decision, though CNRP officials said there were no immediate plans for protests.

International reaction

The international community’s reaction to the verdict was swift and damning, with several observers saying it highlighted the lack of independence in Cambodia’s judicial system and signaled the end of a fragile democracy in the Southeast Asian nation, where Hun Sen has ruled for more than three decades.

The Netherlands-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) said in a statement that the Supreme Court verdict “significantly heightened the human rights and rule of law crisis” in Cambodia.

“The Supreme Court is irreparably interfering with the rights of potentially millions of Cambodians to freely choose their political representatives and vote for them in the upcoming elections,” said Kingsley Abbott, the ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia.

Abbot said that “at an absolute minimum” chief judge Dith Munty and other judges with roles in the CPP should have recused themselves from the case, as “there can be no starker example of an inherent conflict of interest,” noting that such concerns were consistent with a report ICJ released last month, which found a lack of independent judges and prosecutors to be the largest problem facing Cambodia’s justice system.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) on Thursday slammed the move as having “demolished the final pillar of Cambodian democracy and ushered in a new era of de facto one-party rule,” and demanded that international partners cancel their engagement in next year’s election.

APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament, said assistance with the elections should be contingent on the reinstatement of the CNRP, the unconditional release of Kem Sokha, and an end to all harassment of civil society, opposition members, and the media.

James Gomez, director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific for London-based Amnesty International, called Thursday’s decision “a blatant act of political repression that must be reversed immediately” and echoed ICJ’s concerns that Cambodia’s judiciary is “essentially used as an arm of the executive and as a political tool to silence dissent.”

Sanctions

Phil Robertson, deputy director of New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, called the ruling “the culmination of Hun Sen’s backdoor plan to ensure his victory in next year’s election” based on a “politically contrived fairy tale written by the ruling CPP.”

“This is the death of democracy in Cambodia, it’s a political killing of the Paris Peace Accords vision that Cambodia should be a rights respecting, multi-party democracy,” he said in a statement, referring to the agreement that ended war between Vietnam and Cambodia in 1991 and led to the U.N.’s administration of Cambodia’s government while the country transitioned to a system of democratic elections.

Robertson called on Japan and the European Union to suspend financial and technical assistance for next year’s election and boycott election observation efforts unless the CNRP is reinstated, and said the rest of the international community should be “dusting off their sanctioning authority” and targeting senior CPP officials and military commanders responsible for the ongoing crackdown.

Emma Burnett of London-based Global Witness lamented the effect the ruling would have on Cambodia’s democracy, as well as “billions of aid dollars” spent on supporting Cambodians to develop a democratic system that respects rule of law and basic human rights.

“Foreign governments must demand that the decision to dissolve the opposition is overturned, that elections next year are free and fair, and that the corrupt are held to account,” she said.

“If these conditions are not met, they should apply targeted sanctions against Prime Minister Hun Sen and his regime that will prevent them from travelling and spending any ill-gotten gains overseas.”

The Supreme Court verdict elicited similar concerns in Washington, where U.S. Senator John McCain—chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee—called it a “direct attack on the democratic will of the Cambodian people” and also demanded sanctions do leveled  against Hun Sen’s government in a statement released Thursday.

He pointed to  Hun Sen’s crackdown on critics of his regime, which on Wednesday claimed two former RFA journalists police arrested on charges of “illegally collecting information for a foreign source,” as responsible for having “created a culture of fear among ordinary citizens” ahead of next year’s election.

“The United States must not tolerate these outrageous attacks on the Cambodian people,” he said, calling on U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to “move quickly to sanction all senior Cambodian government officials responsible for violating human rights and subverting freedom in Cambodia.”

The RFA journalists are scheduled to be charged with espionage on Friday, local media reported.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz had made similar threats of sanctions if Kem Sokha was not released ahead of a Nov. 9 deadline for voters to register for the 2018 ballot, but Hun Sen dismissed the Texas lawmaker’s threats as interference in Cambodia’s sovereign affairs, saying there is no need for “outsiders” to legitimize the outcome of elections in his country.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Interview: 'Hun Sen Has Crossed The Red Line'

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy has been forced to live in exile since 2015 in the face of questionable defamation charges made against him as part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s harsh crackdown on the opposition ahead of July 2018 elections.  He spoke with RFA Khmer Service on Wednesday after the country’s Supreme Court, packed with ruling party loyalists, disbanded the CNRP.

RFA: What is your reaction to the dissolution of the CNRP?

Sam Rainsy: I’m very concerned with the fact that when the CNRP is dissolved the whole nation is destroyed. I think the ruling party should change its name to the National Destruction Party now. The CNRP remains a legitimate opposition party. Our party is also internationally recognized. All elected officials of the CNRP including the 55 lawmakers and 5007 commune councils shall enjoy their legitimacy for they are elected by the will of the people. No one can deprive them of their legitimate positions. What the government is doing is silly and nonsensical. They go very low, we have to go high. We shall continue our mission to rescue our nation. We cannot let our people getting mistreated like this.

RFA:  What is the future of the opposition?

Sam Rainsy: The CNRP is dissolved only on the paper. The whole thing has been set up by the savage regime of Hun Sen. Dissolving the CNRP is like getting off more than three million people who voted for the CNRP. We shall continue our mission. We have three future steps to take. First, we are educating our people that the CNRP continues to exist legitimately. All elected officials of the CNRP shall continue their work. Second, we continue to lobby with international community to pressure and sanctions on Hun Sen’s government to stop persecuting the opposition and restore a free and fair election. The sanctions are meant to be put on the government senior officials who are involved in the serious violation on human rights and democracy in Cambodia. Third, we are working to endure a political situation that is guaranteed by the international community. We cannot trust the cunning Hun Sen.

RFA: What do you think warrants international community immediate help?

Sam Rainsy: Hun Sen has crossed the red line. The entire world is very concerned and condemning his government. Hun Sen has gravely violated the Paris Peace Accords by dissolving the CNRP, arresting opposition members and restricting freedom of speech and assembly. I am certain that the world will not tolerate him and his regime. Hun Sen is not a strongman. He is a weak and desperate man.

RFA:  Hun Sen addressed US President Donald Trump in the ASEAN summit by denouncing you for your comments about the President. He praised President Trump and told him about his personal matters. Hun Sen also told Present Trump that he was one among very few people in Cambodia who believed that he would be elected as the President of the United States. What do you think about such remarks?

Sam Rainsy: Hun Sen is very childish. How on earth a country leader would talk about his personal matters in an official summit like this? A leader would need to talk about national interests in such an international meeting. Hun Sen is so dumb. It was embarrassing that he did that. He didn’t only humiliate himself. He humiliated the whole nation in the eyes of the world. It’s very embarrassing for Cambodians to have such a Prime Minister like him.

Translated by Nareth Muong.

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Laos Repatriates Teenage Girl Who Fled Thai Construction Camp

The government of Laos has repatriated a teenage girl who ran away from her parents at a construction camp in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province because she was unable to attend school and said she felt unsafe living among other foreign migrant workers, according to NGO officials.

The 13-year-old girl, whose name was withheld because she is a minor, crossed into Laos’s Champassak province on Nov. 9 with the help of Thailand’s Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN), the Lao Women’s Union of Champassak, and officials from a shelter in Samut Sakhon, where she had been housed for the past six months.

She was escorted to her hometown in Champassak’s Soukkhouma district in accordance with an agreement reached between Thai authorities and the Lao embassy in Bangkok, an LPN official named Samak Tubtanee told RFA’s Lao Service.

The local government in Soukkhouma will provide her with a place to live and study while her parents return to work in Thailand, Tubtanee added.

“I think it is good if the girl can live and study in place where she feels safe,” he said.

“If she is in Laos, she can attend school with the assistance of local civil society groups.”

According to Tubtanee, the girl had run away from the construction camp in Samut Sakhon in early 2017 and was placed in a provincial shelter on May 9 when police discovered her living on the street.

Police later brought her to LPN for assistance in located her parents, he said.

An official at the shelter told RFA that the girl had run away from the construction camp because she was “scared for her safety” while living among other foreign migrant workers, and because she was unable to go to school.

Speaking ahead of the girl’s repatriation to Laos, her father told RFA that he and his wife had taken their daughter with them to Thailand when she was in primary school because “we had no money and no home in Laos,” adding that there was no one to look after her there and no way of paying for her studies.

“I’m very happy for the help we’ve received—thank you to the relevant officials and Lao embassy for taking care of our daughter,” he said.

Migrant workers

According to Thailand’s Ministry of Labour, there are around 170,000 Lao workers working legally in the country out of around 2.7 million documented migrant workers—mainly from Myanmar and Cambodia.

While the ministry does not provide figures for undocumented workers from specific countries, it estimates that 2 million migrants are working in Thailand without papers. Reports suggest that more than 200,000 of those illegal migrant workers are from Laos.

Meanwhile, Laos is suffering from a shortage of workers—including skilled workers—but Laotians prefer to work in Thailand because they receive nearly double the pay they get at home.

On June 23, Thailand enacted a royal decree imposing jail terms of up to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 baht (U.S. $2,941) on illegal workers in the country. The decree was suspended following backlash from employers and migrant advocates, but thousands of workers had already fled the country, fearing arrest and deportation.

Thailand has been widely criticized by rights groups for its treatment of migrant workers, who are often exploited by unscrupulous employers and labor brokers.

“Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” the U.S. State Department said in its 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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