Khmer News in En

RFA Closes Phnom Penh Bureau Amid Crackdown by Hun Sen

Radio Free Asia has decided to close its nearly 20-year old bureau in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh amid a relentless crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s authoritarian regime on independent media ahead of critical polls next year, RFA President Libby Liu announced Tuesday.

Using a pretext of tax and administrative violations, the Cambodian authorities have recently closed independent radio stations carrying reports from RFA and its sister US government-funded radio station, the Voice of America, as well as the Voice of Democracy station, and forced the closure of the American-owned Cambodia Daily newspaper.

Liu said the authorities had employed the same tactics against RFA, despite its full cooperation to comply with all government requests and its efforts to register as a licensed media company in Cambodia.

They had resorted to “false statements” and “increasingly threatening and intimidating rhetoric” about RFA, made mostly through leaked documents on government mouthpiece media and random statements from different ministries, she said.

“After almost 20 years of bringing the Cambodian people independent, reliable and trustworthy news and information from inside the country, Radio Free Asia has regrettably been forced to close its Phnom Penh bureau,” Liu said in a statement.

“The government’s relentless crackdown on independent voices in recent weeks has made it impossible to keep the bureau open while guaranteeing the integrity of RFA’s journalistic mission.”

Liu stressed however that RFA, which broadcasts into six countries, including North Korea, China, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, would continue reporting on Cambodia as part of its mission to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.

“RFA stands resolved to stay true to its vital mission in Cambodia, now more than ever, to go forward shining a light even in the darkest of hours,” she said. “RFA will keep reporting on the most important and censored issues and events inside the country – and we will continue to broadcast and publish our programs, reports and content on shortwave radio, social media, and on our website.

“As history has shown, dictators may rise and force their will on nations, but the people will always seek truth in pursuit of freedom.”

Through the years, Cambodian journalists working for RFA have risked their lives to report on corruption, illegal logging, forced evictions, bribery, labor disputes, and rights abuses, among other important stories largely ignored by state-controlled media.

“Their hard work has helped to build the foundation of RFA’s investigative, in-depth journalism from the ground up and has earned us the trust of the Cambodian people — to whom we also owe our heartfelt gratitude,” Liu said.

She said she hoped that the government would not persecute “the individual brave Cambodians” who worked with RFA in retaliation for RFA’s efforts to bring reliable free press to their countrymen and women.

The RFA closure of its Phnom Penh office on Tuesday came as the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia rejected accusations by the Hun Sen government of interference by the United States as “inaccurate, misleading and baseless” and called for the release of detained opposition leader Kem Sokha.

Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept. 3 and charged with treason and accused of plotting with the United States to take power from Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who has ruled Cambodia for more than 30 years.

On Monday, Hun Sen, who could face his biggest election challenge next year. threatened to dissolve Kem Sokha’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) if it continued to back him.

“It has become increasingly apparent that Prime Minister Hun Sun has no intention of allowing free media to continue operating inside the country ahead of the 2018 elections. The government has instead seized on every opportunity to go after critics, political opponents, NGOs, and independent media committed to reporting the truth,” Liu said.

Libby Liu’s full statement is at http://www.rfa.org/about/releases/statement-on-cambodia-09122017092506.html

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Interview: 'We Are Not Opting Out of The Election'

Kem Monovithya, daughter of jailed CNRP leader Kem Sokha, tells reporter Nareth Muon of RFA’s Khmer Service in a Sept. 11, 2017 interview that Cambodians should continue to register to vote in next year’s national election, adding that the country’s political opposition should stay strong and that her father could still be released.

RFA: Many Cambodians are concerned over the current political situation, which could now lead to the dissolution of the CNRP. Some have already posted on their Facebook that they will not go to vote during the next national election if the CNRP is dissolved. People are now less encouraged about registering to vote given this situation. What is your reaction to this?

Kem Monovithya: We have not opted out of the national election yet. We are demanding Kem Sokha’s immediate release. We are fighting for a free and fair election. If people do not go to register to vote now, it will be too late to register when the political situation has been resolved and Kem Sokha is released. Cambodians would then lose a chance to help the CNRP win the next election.

RFA: Kem Sokha has been charged with treason, but he remains innocent until the courts rule otherwise. However, the presumption of innocence is being breached when Hun Sen and his officials continue to address Kem Sokha as a traitor. This is a serious matter. How optimistic are you that Kem Sokha will be released to lead the CNRP again?

Kem Monovithya: This gross action by the government in arresting Kem Sokha is an act of intimidation intended to traumatize Cambodians. But we shouldn’t be intimidated. I believe they cannot dissolve the CNRP. If they wanted to dissolve it, they could have done that a long time ago. They don’t even need to arrest Kem Sokha to dissolve the CNRP. In the way they arrested him, and the way they posted the video of his arrest, they are trying to inflict fear and a state of uncertainty among Cambodians and the CNRP leadership. People may now be frightened to engage in politics. People may be discouraged from registering to vote. And then the CPP will win. We have to stay strong and united. We cannot be intimidated or demoralized. The CPP is testing the water to see how the CNRP’s supporters and the international community will react.  

RFA:  Several radio stations, including that ones that broadcast the CNRP’s messages to their constituents, have been banned. Local meetings with CNRP supporters in some places have also been restricted. How will the CNRP communicate with them now?

Kem Monovithya: The CNRP has local officials and activists who have their own means of communicating [Party] messages to them.

RFA:  the Cambodian government is showing more hostility towards the U.S., with Hun Sen accusing the U.S. of working with Kem Sokha to topple the government. The Cambodian diaspora has been protesting against the Cambodian government in relation to Kem Sokha’s arrest. They want him to be released. However, the government has linked those protesters to the CNRP’s supporters, and Hun Sen has warned people to not interfere in Kem Sokha’s arrest or the CNRP will be dissolved and more people will be arrested. Is international pressure or protest really helpful?

Kem Monovithya: I would like to ask our people to not be fooled by the government’s rhetoric. It’s really ironic that the government of Cambodia has not kicked out the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh, given their accusation that the U.S. is conspiring with Kem Sokha. Why is the harassment being inflicted only upon Cambodian politicians who believe in free and fair elections to bring change? The government claims that it has all the facts and evidence against the U.S. that it needs. I challenge it to file charges against the U.S. Why has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not issued an official statement warning the U.S.? Their failure to do this proves that such accusations are only unofficial and verbal.

RFA: You have been accused of being affiliated with a CIA agent. You are also listed on a leaked blacklist of people to be arrested. Are you worried about your safety?

Kem Monovithya: I would like to reiterate that the government has not accused the U.S. officially. I believe the government is after my family. They are trying to put us in danger. My family and the CNRP leadership obviously have personal security and safety concerns. We trust that the current government will do whatever it takes to intimidate us. We don’t have any option but to move forward. We know our road is bumpy. Yet we have to continue the fight, because we believe in people power and in their will to continue the fight too.

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Cambodia Steps up Threats Against Main Opposition Party After Leader’s Arrest

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday stepped up the pressure on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party after the arrest of Kem Sokha, vowing to dissolve the CNRP if it is linked to the alleged “treason” behind the party leader’s arrest.

“If the CNRP is found to be linked to this act of treason, the party shall be sanctioned in accordance with the law. In this case, it shall be dissolved,” Hun Sen said.

Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh early on Sept. 3 and accused of treason in a move critics said showed that Hun Sen was intensifying his attacks on opponents before 2018 elections. He was taken to remote Tra Peang Plong prison in Tbong Khmum province, near Cambodia’s border with Vietnam, and formally charged with treason on Sept. 5.

“Cambodia is very fortunate to uncover on time the traitorous acts of the traitor who has now been arrested.  If the political party continues to obstruct the proceedings and defend this traitor, it will be regarded as a traitorous party itself,” said Hun Sen.

There is no chance to let this party exist in our democratic process in Cambodia. When Cambodia dissolves this party there are still plenty of other political parties for the elections,” added the strongman, who has ruled Cambodia for 32 years and says he wants to stay in power for another decade.

CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua, however, said during a visit Monday to the prison Kem Sokha is detained that the party will boycott next year’s election if its leader is not released unconditionally and normality restored.

“Kem Sokha’s arrest and charges are against the constitution. He is protected by his parliamentary immunity,” said Mu Sochua.

“If Kem Sokha is not released so that he can participate freely in the next election along with other factors contributing to free and fair election, we will not join such an election. It is against the will of our people and nation if we join the election that is not free and fair,” she said.

Mu Sochua said the CNRP’s boycott of the National Assembly extraordinary session convened on Monday to strip Kem Sokha of his parliamentary immunity meant that the “session is unconstitutional and against the internal regulations of the National Assembly.”

A government-backed scholar, meanwhile, reiterated Hun Sen’s earlier claims that Kem Sokha had been conspiring with the United States to instigate a “color revolution” in Cambodia.

“I listened to what Kem Sokha said in Australia. That’s not different from the color revolution in Ukraine and Yugoslavia,” said Sok Touch, president of the country’s highest academic institution, the government-run Royal Academy of Cambodia.

Sok Touch was referring to a heavily edited video from Australia-based Cambodian Broadcasting Network (CBN) released by the government-aligned media outlet Fresh News it said showed Kem Sokha was working with the United States to unseat strongman Hun Sen.

“It’s very identical. It’s organized by the CIA. The mechanism and tactics are the same,” Sok Touch told a roundtable discussion on color revolutions.

CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay chastised Sok Touch for echoing Hun Sen and expressing his conclusions before any court takes up Kem Sokha’s case.

“If our courts are independent and professional, a so-called scholar like him shouldn’t make such a presumption in the first place,” said Son Chhay.

Cambodian exiles around the world continued to rally for Kem Sokha, calling for international pressure on Hun Sen.

On September 9, about 400 Cambodian-Australians protested in Springvale Town Hall in Victoria, Australia, and protests also happened in the cities of Adelaide and Sydney. Another 300 hundred protesters met in front of Canada’s parliament Ottawa.

Cambodian-Americans protest on Sunday in California and Washington state, while a larger group is expected in Washington, Dc on Sept. 17.

Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) dismissed the protests.

“He’s lucky to be prosecuted here. If he were to be on trial in a foreign country he would have been hanged by now,” said a CPP spokesman.

“Cambodia does not have capital punishment. He’s fortunate to be imprisoned.”

Reported by Sokheng Saut, Thai Tha, Vanndeth Van and Sonorng Kher for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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Kem Sokha’s Daughters Say His Arrest Shows Cambodia Rulers' Fear of Grassroots

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha arrest without warrant on treason charges brought his wife to tears, but is a sign long-ruling Hun Sen and his party fear grassroots democracy, his daughters wrote.

“Kem Sokha is now moved to an actual prison cell where inmates are kept, our mom broke into tears seeing him in prison uniform today,” Kem Sokha’s daughter Kem Monovithya wrote in twitter post on Thursday.

Writing in the Washington Post, also on Thursday, Kem Monovithya, deputy director-general of public affairs at the CNRP, joined her younger sister Kem Samathida in sharing the account of their father’s arrest by dozens of heavily armed policemen shortly after midnight on Sept. 2.

“They had no warrant, but they told his guards that they would be ‘destroyed’ if they didn’t open the door. Then the police charged in. They pushed two female housekeepers to the floor, putting guns to their heads and robbing them of their phones and money,” the sisters wrote.

“Our father’s last words to us over the phone were, ‘they’re handcuffing me.’ Then they dragged him away as our mother cried for help,” they said.

Kem Sokha was arrested after government-aligned media outlet Fresh News released a heavily edited video from Australia-based Cambodian Broadcasting Network (CBN) it said showed the opposition leader was working with the United States to unseat strongman Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 32 years.

On Tuesday, Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok concluded his investigation into Kem Sokha’s case and formally charged him with conspiring with a foreign power to “foment hostilities or acts of aggression against Cambodia,” in accordance with Article 443 of the country’s Criminal Code.

According to the court’s prosecution office, Kem Sokha’s statement in the video, as well as “evidence collected by competent authorities,” proved the opposition leader had been conspiring to topple Hun Sen’s government since 1993.

‘He has to be locked up’

Kem Sokha’s daughters said the full-length video demonstrates only his interest in learning about applying grass-roots democracy and non-violent methods in Cambodia, which holds a general election in mid-2008.

“The brutality of his arrest is revealing: His work has become a threat to the ruling party. The government is accusing him of treason based on a video publicly broadcast — with his knowledge — in 2013,” they wrote.

“The government has produced and distributed a selectively edited version of the video to buttress its claims. Yet what it calls ‘treason’ is nothing more than an expression of support for grass-roots empowerment and effective opposition in democracy,” wrote the daughters.

The arrest has drawn a steady stream of criticism and concern from Western governments, many of which are aid donors to Cambodia and are worried about the viability of elections next year.

“With national elections approaching, Canada is seriously concerned by the recent arrest of Cambodia National Rescue Party’s leader Kem Sokha. This latest attempt to compromise the democratic process follows the imposition of startling restrictions on independent news outlets,” the country said in a statement issued in Phnom Penh.

Germany called for Kem Sokha’s immediate release.

“The recent events in Cambodia, constraints on civil society organizations, steps taken against the media as well as this arrest signify a massive restriction of freedom of speech and thus the democratic process in the country,” the government said in a statement

“Without a credible opposition, democratic control, free media and an active civil society, the upcoming election to the National Assembly in July 2018 loses credence,” said Germany.

The ruling Cambodia People’s Party pushed back, with spokesperson Sok Eysan saying foreign statements of support “are nothing but encouragement for the leader of the opposition to be more insolent.”

“Because of the cold war political tendency and ideology some foreign governments are not hesitant to support the new and former leaders of the opposition party who are their puppets,” he wrote on Telegram.

“Their support makes them become even less afraid to break the laws including in particular the crimes of conspiring with foreign powers to topple the legitimate government of Cambodia,” said Sok Eysan.

The CPP spokesman appeared to say that Kem Sokha will not receive due process.

“Like in Kem Sokha’s case, he has committed serious crime of treason. None of his bosses could help him. He has to be locked up,” wrote Sok Eysan.

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

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Cambodia’s Hun Sen Vows to Lead For One More Decade

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday vowed to remain in power for another decade, a day after a court charged the head of the country’s opposition party with treason for allegedly trying to topple the government.
Speaking to around 10,000 garment industry workers at a factory in the capital Phnom Penh, Hun Sen, 65, said he would run for two more terms as prime minister to defend the stability of the nation before considering whether to step aside.

“Earlier I had a mixed feeling about when I should stop being the prime minister,” said the strongman, who has led Cambodia for 32 years.

“But thanks to the recent developments in connection with the treacherous activities of the Cambodian who has been arrested … I have decided to continue for at least another 10 years,” he added.

“May I ask foreigners not to get jealous with me? I am the longest-serving prime minister in the world.”

Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won commune elections held on June 4, but the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) received nearly 44 percent of all votes to the CPP’s 51 percent, in an outcome that many see as a bellwether for general elections scheduled for July 2018.

In recent weeks, the government has launched a crackdown against the independent media, NGOs, and the political opposition, drawing global condemnation for what is widely seen as a bid to stifle dissent ahead of next year’s ballot.

CNRP chief Kem Sokha was arrested over the weekend in Phnom Penh after government-aligned media outlet Fresh News released a heavily edited video from Australia-based Cambodian Broadcasting Network (CBN) it said showed the opposition leader was working with the United States to unseat Hun Sen.

On Tuesday, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor formally charged Kem Sokha with conspiring with a foreign power to “foment hostilities or acts of aggression against Cambodia,” in accordance with Article 443 of the country’s Criminal Code. The opposition leader faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

The “Seiha” Facebook account, which regularly leaks documents attacking the opposition, recently released a list of people it said had acted with Kem Sokha and would be taken into custody, including CNRP deputy president Pol Ham; lawmakers Yem Ponhearith, Ou Chanrith, and Son Chhay; and Kem Sokha’s two daughters.

The U.S., the European Union, and the United Nations have issued statements expressing grave concerns over the arrest, although a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing—one of Hun Sen’s closest allies in the region—“supports the Cambodian government’s efforts to protect national security and stability,” when asked about Kem Sokha at a recent press briefing.

Cambodia’s government has said it acted in defense of national interests, and in a statement Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that its senior minister Prak Sokhorn had briefed foreign diplomats on Kem Sokha’s arrest the day he was taken into custody, emphasizing that “how [the CNRP’s] strategy [to gain power] is built and who is behind it” was what constituted “an offence.”

Prak Sokhorn claimed that the video showed Kem Sokha had been conspiring with the U.S. since 1993 to overthrow Hun Sen and told ambassadors that the opposition leader’s video statement was deemed in flagrante delicto, allowing police to arrest him despite his parliamentary immunity.

The senior minister also reminded the diplomatic corps about “the respect for independence, sovereignty, neutrality, Cambodian laws and the non-interference in internal affairs of Cambodia,” and urged their countries to “let our people decide freely on who to lead them.”

Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice also defended the arrest in a statement Wednesday, and called on opposition party members to refrain from “misleading the public” by saying the act was in violation of the law.

Party threatened

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency quoted Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan as saying that the government could dissolve the CNRP if it does not move to appoint a new president, after the party said there were no plans to replace Kem Sokha.

CNRP deputy president Eng Chhay Eang had told RFA’s Khmer Service Tuesday that in view of Cambodia’s “deteriorating situation, it makes no difference who assumes the position of president of the party, as the election cannot be free and fair,” and suggested the opposition would boycott next year’s ballot “unless the political situation returns to normality.”

Phay Siphan responded by telling Reuters “they have to appoint an acting president,” adding that “if they don’t comply with the law, they will not exist and have no right to political activity … It’s their choice, not my choice.”

Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak was also cited by the Phnom Penh Post as saying that the CNRP would be dissolved if its members continue to support Kem Sokha, and that once the party was disbanded, all of its lawmakers and elected officials would lose their positions.

Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy resigned in February in order to preserve the party in the face of a law that bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party, among other changes. He has been living in self-imposed exile in France since 2015 to avoid convictions many see as politically motivated.

Wider protests

Amid the condemnation over Kem Sokha’s arrest, around 100 Cambodians and Cambodian-Americans gathered in Lowell, Massachusetts Tuesday to demand the opposition leader’s release and the restoration of democracy and human rights to Cambodia.

A group of Cambodian-Americans are planning to stage a similar protest in Washington on Sept. 15, while members of the Cambodian diaspora in Australia, Canada, and France will also stage demonstrations over the next two weekends.

Since Aug. 22, Cambodia’s government has expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and forced the closure of the English language Cambodia Daily newspaper after giving it one month to pay an alleged U.S. $6.3 million in back taxes.

Despite the Cambodia Daily’s decision to close on Monday, the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s General Department of Taxation has said the paper will still be held accountable for its debt, and department chief Kong Vibol ordered the country’s immigration officials to bar its owners, Deborah Krisher-Steele and Douglas Eric Steele, from leaving the country.

On Wednesday, deputy prosecutor Ly Sophanna of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced he had received lawsuits filed by the General Department of Taxation against Krisher-Steele, Steele, and Krisher-Steele’s father, Bernard Krisher, as managers of the Cambodia Daily’s parent company, Bernard Krisher Jimusho Co. Ltd. Two separate defamation lawsuits were also filed against Krisher-Steele.

In addition to the tax debt, the General Department of Taxation is demanding 800 million riels (U.S. $200,000) in compensation for tax evasion and obstruction of the implementation of Cambodia’s tax law.

Reported by Sereyvuth Oung and Neang Ieng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia Formally Charges Opposition Chief Kem Sokha With Treason

A court in Cambodia formally charged opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha with treason Tuesday in a case his lawyer dismissed as “politically motivated” in the lead up to general elections scheduled for July 2018.

The charges came as the international community and rights groups heaped criticism on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) government for ordering the arrest amid a wider crackdown on the political opposition, independent media, and civil society as the country gears up for next year’s ballot.

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief Kem Sokha was arrested Sunday in the capital Phnom Penh after government-aligned media outlet Fresh News released a heavily edited video from Australia-based Cambodian Broadcasting Network (CBN) it said showed the opposition leader was working with the United States to unseat strongman Hun Sen.

On Tuesday, Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok concluded his investigation into Kem Sokha’s case and formally charged him with conspiring with a foreign power to “foment hostilities or acts of aggression against Cambodia,” in accordance with Article 443 of the country’s Criminal Code.

According to the court’s prosecution office, Kem Sokha’s statement in the video, as well as “evidence collected by competent authorities,” proved the opposition leader had been conspiring to topple Hun Sen’s government since 1993—activities it deemed in flagrante delicto under Cambodian law.

“Following examination of the case, as well as investigation and verification of evidence based on the suspect’s testimony, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s Prosecution Office is of the opinion that there is sufficient basis to charge Kem Sokha with conspiracy with a foreign power,” the office said in a statement.

A representative from the Prosecution Office took the unusual step of traveling nearly 120 miles (195 kilometers) northeast of Phnom Penh to the remote Trapaing Phlong maximum security prison in Kampong Cham province, near the border with Vietnam, to charge Kem Sokha.

The outcome of Kem Sokha’s trial now rests with the court’s Investigating Judge Ky Rithy. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.

Following the decision by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s Prosecution Office to charge Kem Sokha, the court ordered the National Assembly, or parliament, to strip the opposition chief of his immunity as a lawmaker so that his trial could proceed.

National Assembly spokesperson Leng Peng Long told RFA that he had received the court’s order and said the Permanent Commission of the National Assembly plans to hold an emergency meeting “shortly” to decide how to respond, though a date has not yet been set.

Legal team

Choung Choungy, one of Kem Sokha’s five defense lawyers, rejected the charges against his client Tuesday, calling the deputy prosecutor’s decision “baseless” and “purely politically motivated.”

He added that police had initially refused him access to Kem Sokha at Trapaing Phlong Prison, which he said was in violation of the law.

Hem Socheat, another of Kem Sokha’s defense lawyers, told RFA that the opposition leader’s legal team had eventually been granted a 15-minute visit with him, and noticed that his health “did not seem good.”

“The appearance of his face and physical condition suggested that he wasn’t well,” he said, though he added that Kem Sokha had later seemed in good spirits while being interviewed by the Prosecution Office.

While Hem Socheat said Kem Sokha’s current health condition was not immediately clear, he noted that his family had been “barred from bringing him medication” on Monday.

CNRP reacts

Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, CNRP deputy president Eng Chhay Eang said that the party would continue to function in Kem Sokha’s absence and had made no plans to replace him.

“In view of the current deteriorating situation, it makes no difference who assumes the position of president of the party, as the election cannot be free and fair,” he said, adding that Cambodia had regressed to a political “climate of arbitrary arrests where powerful individuals can do anything at will, without respect for the law.”

“The CNRP finds no reason to replace Kem Sokha, even if the court decides to convict him, and will not participate in any election unless the political situation returns to normality, as it was before.”

Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who has been living in self-imposed exile in France since November 2015 to avoid jail time for convictions also widely seen as politically motivated, on Tuesday accused Hun Sen of allowing influence from authoritarian Vietnam and China to undermine Cambodia’s national interests in exchange for backing from Hanoi and Beijing to remain in power.

“Only the present leader has involved the country in losing its independence—becoming an orbit country and a colonized nation of neighboring countries,” he said in a video statement posted to his Facebook account.

CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San dismissed Sam Rainsy’s statement as coming from a person “who has been dismissed from society,” adding that Hun Sen had never requested assistance from a foreign power to overthrow a legitimate government.

“Hun Sen is different from Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, since he has never been connected to any [foreign] individuals for assistance or received any orders from anyone,” he said.

Wider concerns

Also on Tuesday, civil society organizations working to promote electoral oversight in Cambodia issued a statement voicing their concerns over Kem Sokha’s arrest, saying it could dissuade the public from registering to vote during a 70-day registration period launched by the country’s National Election Committee (NEC) on Sept. 1.

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), said low turnout since the registration period began indicated that the arrest may have influenced potential voters.

“We are concerned—that is why we’ve actively promoted [registration],” he said.

“We want to see all [prospective voters] come to register to vote.”

The concerns over voter registration came amid a continuing deluge of international condemnation over Kem Sokha’s arrest from Western governments and rights groups, who called it the latest salvo in Hun Sen’s ongoing attack on democracy in Cambodia.

“The arrest of Kem Sokha is part of Hun Sen’s all-out offensive to wipe out any form of opposition ahead of next year’s general election,” Paris-based Federation of International Human Rights (FIDH) president Dimitris Christopoulos said in a statement on Tuesday.

“It’s imperative for the international community to step up political pressure to prevent Cambodia from descending into irreversible authoritarianism.”

Over the weekend, the European Union said Kem Sokha’s arrest marked a “dangerous political escalation” and said that, along with recent actions by the authorities against NGOs and some media outlets, it suggested “a further effort to restrict the democratic space in Cambodia and the space for independent reporting, comment and criticism.”

“A credible democratic process leading up to the National Assembly election in July 2018 requires an environment in which political parties, civil society and the media are able to carry out their legitimate roles without fear, threats or arbitrary restrictions … In view of his parliamentary immunity, we expect the authorities to release Kem Sokha immediately.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a statement on Monday expressed serious concern over the arrest, which he said appeared to have been carried out “with no respect for due process guarantees, including respect for his parliamentary immunity.”

Hussein noted that Hun Sen and other high-ranking officials had made numerous public statements about Kem Sokha’s supposed guilt, which he said “breach the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial to which he is entitled under Cambodian and international human rights law.”

Reported by Moniroth Morm, Vanndeth Van, and Vuthy Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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