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Cambodia’s Government On Board With Opposition Congress: CNRP

Cambodia’s government has no objections to the results of an extraordinary congress held by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) earlier this month to appoint new leadership, the CNRP said Wednesday.

However, the country’s Ministry of Interior appeared to contradict the claim, saying the CNRP would be held to existing by-laws it was found in violation of last week and making no mention of the ministry’s stance on the March 2 extraordinary congress.

In a statement released after a meeting between CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhai Eang and director-general of the Ministry of Interior’s General Directorate of Administration Prak Sam Oeun, the opposition party said the ministry “acknowledges the process of the CNRP extraordinary congress” and “does not object to the amendment of Articles 45 and 47 of the CNRP’s statute.”

Regarding any other issues of contention between the opposition party and the Ministry of Interior, “the CNRP will find an appropriate solution,” the statement said.

The CNRP convened its extraordinary congress to amend Articles 45 and 47 of its party by-laws—removing an 18-month moratorium on appointing a new president and changing the structure of the party’s leadership. The congress also saw Kem Sokha named president, while Mu Sochua, Pol Ham and Eng Chhay Eang were made party deputies.

On March 22, the Ministry of Interior ruled in a letter to the CNRP that the party had violated its own by-laws by holding the congress and appointing Kem Sokha, based on documents filed at the CNRP’s launch in May 2013. The announcement threw the CNRP’s political legitimacy into question ahead of local commune elections in June.

Opposition officials contend that the CNRP was compelled to convene the congress and amend its statute before a new ruling party-initiated law on political parties went into effect, or risk being dissolved, because the law only provided it with 90 days to elect new leadership.

Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy resigned on Feb. 11 in order to preserve the party in the face of the new law that also bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party, among other changes.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Eng Chhai Eang told reporters that the Ministry of Interior had urged the CNRP to comply with last week’s letter, informing the party that it had violated its by-laws.

The letter also called on the CNRP to dump its campaign slogan of “replace the commune chiefs who serve the party with commune chiefs who serve the people,” saying the phrase goes against election laws and the spirit of democracy. The CNRP has said it won’t modify the motto and will permit party activists to use it while campaigning for commune elections slated for June 4.

Eng Chhai Eang said no further meetings will be held between the Ministry of Interior and the CNRP regarding the results of the opposition’s extraordinary congress.

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Ministry of Interior representative Prak Samoeun speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh, March 29, 2017. Credit: RFA

RFA

Demand for compliance

Statements by the CNRP appeared to contradict those made by Prak Sam Oeun while speaking with the media outside the Ministry of Interior at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting.

The director-general told reporters that the ministry will be “keeping an eye on the CNRP” to ensure the party’s compliance with its by-laws and made no mention of its stance on the opposition’s extraordinary congress or amendments to Articles 45 and 47.

“We are certainly guided by the laws and there are steps to address this issue,” Prak Sam Oeun said.

“The CNRP’s statute is kept at the Ministry of Interior. We have notified the CNRP to correct it. If they ignore [such notifications] there shall be consequences.”

He did not elaborate on what was discussed at the meeting or what consequences the opposition party might face if found to have disregarded the ministry’s letter of last week.

CNRP officials have warned that the CPP seeks to prevent the opposition from standing in the June elections through a variety of different measures, including the passage of the political party law.

The CPP won more than 70 percent of the vote and secured 1,592 of 1,633 communes in Cambodia’s 2012 local elections, held before the CNRP was formed. The opposition party won nearly half of the vote in the general election the following year.

Observers say the CNRP could give the CPP, which has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years, a run for its money in the June polls—a race that many believe may foreshadow the general election in 2018.

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

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Mothers of Murdered Analyst and His Convicted Killer Question Cambodia Court Ruling

The mothers of murdered political analyst Kem Ley and his convicted slayer, Oueth Ang, have both questioned a Cambodian court’s recent decision to sentence the latter to life in prison last week, saying it is unlikely he is solely responsible for the killing.

Phauk Se, whose son Kem Ley was gunned down on the morning of July 10, 2016 as he stopped for coffee at a gasoline station on a busy intersection in the capital Phnom Penh, said Tuesday demanded that authorities proceed with an investigation in the case.

She told RFA’s Khmer Service that she wants “additional people who were involved to be held accountable” for the killing, suggesting that an earlier probe which found Oueth Ang accountable for his death did not bring the plot’s masterminds to justice.

“We don’t think the case should be concluded at this stage,” she said, referring to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s March 23 sentencing of Oueth Ang—who calls himself Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill”—to life in prison for the murder.

“We are frustrated. I don’t understand how blurry footage of a video [from the shop where he was killed] could be used as evidence in the trial. Now it’s up to [the court authorities]. Whatever they decide—it’s up to them.”

Oueth Ang had confessed during his brief March 1 trial to shooting Kem Ley twice at blank point range after growing angry over an unpaid debt of U.S. $3,000, though his motive is not supported by physical evidence and has been widely dismissed by critics.

During the trial, court authorities reviewed blurry footage from the CCTV camera at a Star Mart shop showing the killing and other video clips from nearby street cameras showing the defendant running from the crime scene through several downtown intersections.

Footage from additional CCTV cameras inside the convenience store was confiscated by police and delivered to court authorities, but inexplicably never shown as evidence.

Most of the 10 people who delivered testimonies during the trial were police officers who read brief statements and were never comprehensively cross-examined, while several other potentially important witnesses were never brought to court.

Oueth Ang’s claim that he loaned Kem Ley U.S. $3,000 for a job and a home has also been refuted by both his family and that of the victim, who say the two had never met, while the killer’s wife maintains he was too poor to lend out money.

Mother unconvinced

On Tuesday, Oueth Ang’s mother, Ek Tap said she is unconvinced that her son was behind Kem Ley’s murder.

Speaking to RFA from her home village of Tonle Sa, in the Norkor Pheas commune of Siem Reap province’s Angkor Chum district, Ek Tap said that while her son was a former soldier, “he had never mistreated anyone.”

Ek Tap said she had not seen Oueth Ang since his arrest eight months ago—which she only learned about through a Facebook post that a fellow villager showed her—and has been unable to sleep since he was sentenced to life in prison.

“I would like to appeal to [King Norodom Sihamoni] to reduce my son’s sentence,” she said, reiterating her claim that Oueth Ang could not have carried out Kem Ley’s murder on his own.

Kem Ley had amassed a popular following because of his willingness to speak out against what he saw as political injustices under the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on a RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.

Hun Sen has sued for defamation three people he accuses of suggesting Kem Ley’s murder was planned by the CPP—former president of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy, Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) Senator Thak Lany and political analyst Kim Sok. Sam Rainsy and Thak Lany are both in exile, and Kim Sok is in jail awaiting trial.

Kem Ley’s wife, Bou Rachana, and their five sons have fled Cambodia for their safety and applied for refugee status with the United Nations. Bou Rachana has said she is not interested in pursuing the case and has no faith in Cambodia’s courts.

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

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Cambodia Deems Opposition Leadership Illegitimate for ‘Violating’ Party By-Laws

Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior has ruled that the country’s opposition party violated its own by-laws by holding an extraordinary congress to appoint new leadership earlier this month, throwing its political legitimacy into question ahead of local commune elections in June.

In a statement yesterday, the ministry said that Kem Sokha’s appointment as president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on March 2 is illegitimate because the opposition failed to observe its own 18-month freeze on selecting leaders if the post becomes vacant.

Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy resigned on Feb. 11 in order to preserve the party in the face of a new ruling party initiated law that bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party, among other changes.

Thursday’s statement also called on the CNRP to dump its campaign slogan of “replace the commune chiefs who serve the party with commune chiefs who serve the people,” saying the phrase goes against Cambodia’s constitution, election laws and the spirit of multiparty democracy.

The CNRP convened its extraordinary congress on March 2 to amend some articles of its party by-laws and appoint Kem Sokha as president, along with deputies Mu Sochua, Pol Ham and Eng Chhay Eang.

Opposition officials say the CNRP was compelled to convene the congress and amend its statute before the new law on political parties went into effect, or risk being dissolved, because the law only provided it with 90 days to elect new leadership.

The amended by-laws removed the requirement of an 18-month moratorium and allowed for the senior-most deputy president to immediately take over as CNRP president in the event the post was vacant, but the Ministry of Interior ruled Thursday according to an older statute filed at the party’s launch in May 2013.

After the statement was issued on Thursday, CNRP chairman of the board of directors Yim Sovann submitted a letter to the Ministry of Interior requesting a meeting with minister Sar Kheng to discuss the ruling and seek a solution.

However, Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak reiterated the ministry’s position Friday and said Sar Kheng deemed it only necessary to send an administrative level official to meet with the CNRP.

“What was mentioned in the [ministry] notification is upheld—we cannot hold a discussion that might validate [the CNRP congress],” he said.

“There cannot be any modification. [The CNRP] continues to violate its own [bylaws] as the basis. There is no exception or recognition. That is why there can only be a meeting at the expert level—not the political level.”

Sar Kheng has designated director-general of the General Directorate of Administration Prak Sam Oeun to discuss the matter with CNRP officials on March 29 at the ministry’s office, Khieu Sopheak said.

The spokesperson said he could not discuss what action the ministry would take against the CNRP if it refuses to approve the validity of the opposition extraordinary congress.

Ruling questioned

On Friday, CNRP deputy president Eng Chhay Eang said the Ministry of Interior has recognized his party’s right to take part in elections since 2013.

He said that the CNRP had already notified the ministry about the modifications to its by-laws for selecting party leadership and “does not need the Ministry of Interior to reapprove its validity anymore.”

Eng Chhay Eang also said the CNRP won’t modify its motto and will permit party activists to use it while campaigning for commune elections slated for June 4 on the grounds that “it is just a slogan.”

Korn Savang, senior advocacy official for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), told RFA that electing new leaders through an extraordinary congress is part of the internal affairs of any political party.

The CNRP should be free to modify its by-laws on the basis of whatever situation the party is facing, he added.

“Only if there are internal complaints or dissatisfaction within the party and a complaint is filed with the Ministry of Interior can the ministry either accept or not accept the case,” Korn Savang said.

“This particular issue is the party’s internal affairs, so the ministry cannot say whether it will accept [the CNRP’s validity] or not. Neither the constitution nor any existing law stipulates that the Ministry of Interior must accept any modified party by-laws.”

CNRP officials have warned that the CPP seeks to prevent the opposition from standing in the June elections through a variety of different measures, including the passage of the political party law.

The CPP won more than 70 percent of the vote and secured 1,592 of 1,633 communes in Cambodia’s 2012 local elections, held before the CNRP was formed. The opposition party won nearly half of the vote in the general election the following year.

Observers say the CNRP could give the CPP, which has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years, a run for its money in the June polls—a race that many believe may foreshadow the general election in 2018.

Reported by Sothearin Yeang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia Court Sentences Former Soldier to Life for Murder of Analyst Kem Ley

A court in Cambodia sentenced a former soldier to life in prison Thursday for killing prominent political analyst Kem Ley, prompting demands for an independent inquiry into the slaying many believe was not adequately investigated.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Oueth Ang—who calls himself Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill”—solely responsible for Kem Ley’s death, and guilty of illegal possession of a weapon and premeditated murder under Articles 490 and 200 of Cambodia’s penal code, respectively.

Kem Ley, 46, was gunned down on the morning of July 10, 2016 as he stopped for coffee in a Star Mart store at a gasoline station on a busy intersection in the capital.

Immediately following the 40-minute hearing to review the case, Judge Leang Samnath sent Oueth Ang to prison to begin serving his life sentence. According to the ruling, Oueth Ang can file an appeal if he is not satisfied with his sentence.

Speaking to reporters after the punishment was handed down, lawyer Yong Phanith, who was designated by the Cambodian Bar Association to represent Oueth Ang, said he plans to meet with his client in advance of any pursuit of an appeal.

But he indicated that he was unsatisfied with the ruling and urged the court to investigate the case further, noting that Oueth Ang was the only person arrested in connection with the murder, though witness testimony and evidence suggested others were involved.

“The court should investigate other involved individuals for [additional] convictions,” he said.

“According to the facts of this case, there are two other individuals that the court need to investigate—namely, Pou Lis and Chork, according to what we have learnt during the hearing.”

Pou Lis (the Khmer word for police) is the name of a man Oeuth Ang said had provided him with Kem Ley’s license plate number, and he said a Thai national named Chork sold him the gun he used in the killing.

Oueth Ang had confessed during his brief March 1 trial to shooting Kem Ley twice at blank point range after growing angry over an unpaid debt of U.S. $3,000, though his motive is not supported by physical evidence and has been widely dismissed by critics.

During the trial, court authorities reviewed blurry footage from the CCTV camera at the Star Mart showing the killing and other video clips from nearby street cameras showing the defendant running from the crime scene through several downtown intersections.

Footage from additional CCTV cameras inside the convenience store was confiscated by police and delivered to court authorities, but inexplicably never shown as evidence.

Most of the 10 people who delivered testimonies during the trial were police officers who read brief statements and were never comprehensively cross-examined, while several other potentially important witnesses were never brought to court.

Several inconsistencies in Oeuth Ang’s statements have also led to widespread skepticism over how the case was handled.

The defendant maintains he is Chuob Samlab, an orphan who never married and purchased the pistol he used to kill Kem Ley with money earned by working on a cassava plantation in Thailand, but his wife and mother presented an identification card to the court with his fingerprints on it, indicating he is Oueth Ang, a former soldier and forest ranger.

Oueth Ang’s claim that he loaned Kem Ley U.S. $3,000 for a job and a home has also been refuted by both his family and that of the victim, who say the two had never met, while the killer’s wife maintains he was too poor to lend out money.

Supporters unsatisfied

Outside the court on Thursday, supporters of Kem Ley expressed their frustration with the ruling, calling it a move to divert criticism from authorities for failing to arrest the people responsible for plotting the analyst’s assassination.

Sor Sorn, a land activist from the Borei Keila community in Phnom Penh, told RFA’s Khmer Service she believed the court had been ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to issue a sentence and put an end to the proceedings without fully investigating the case.

“I cannot accept this ruling because the court is not independent,” she said.

“Not enough witnesses were summoned. Chuob Samlab never told the truth—he fabricated the story the entire time.”

Am Sam Ath, head of investigations for local rights group LICADHO, said convicting Oueth Ang was not enough, adding that the court must continue its investigation if it wants to eliminate public concerns over its handling of the case.

“Chuob Samlab could not have carried out such a murder against Kem Ley by himself,” he said.

“Therefore, relevant persons and those behind the scenes of this murder case should be brought to justice.”

Kem Ley had amassed a popular following because of his willingness to speak out against what he saw as political injustices under the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on a RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.

Hun Sen has sued for defamation three people he accuses of suggesting Kem Ley’s murder was planned by the CPP—former president of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy, Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) Senator Thak Lany and political analyst Kim Sok. Sam Rainsy and Thak Lany are both in exile, and Kim Sok is in jail awaiting trial.

Kem Ley’s wife and five sons are no longer living in Cambodia and have applied for refugee status with the United Nations.

Calls for independent inquiry

In a joint statement released after Thursday’s sentencing, more than 60 local civil society organizations demanded an independent inquiry into Kem Ley’s murder, citing what they called an insufficient investigation of the case.

“The lack of transparency in the investigation of Kem Ley’s death, the brevity of the trial proceedings, and the failure to fully investigate motive, potential accomplices and the circumstances of Oeuth Ang’s arrest, raise serious concerns about the adequacy of this criminal process,” the statement read.

“In light of the inadequacies in the investigation into Dr. Kem Ley’s death, as well as in the trial proceedings, we … call for the establishment of an independent Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances of his murder, in accordance with international best practices.”

The civil society groups said the commission should be comprised of experts from outside of Cambodia and have access to all available evidence, including all available CCTV footage.

“An independent Commission of Inquiry is now the only means by which to safeguard the independence and transparency of the investigation, comply with Cambodia’s obligation to fully investigate possible breaches of the right to life, and ultimately to find justice for the family of Dr. Kem Ley,” the statement said.

Also on Thursday, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch urged Cambodia to continue a probe into Kem Ley’s murder to address aspects of the case that “appear to have been inadequately investigated.”

In a joint statement, the three rights groups said the questionable nature of Oueth Ang’s identity and motive, as well as missing witnesses and CCTV footage, was insufficiently explored during the trial.

“The trial revealed that the investigation appeared to be deficient in several important respects,” said Kingsley Abbott, senior international legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists, who observed the trial.

“Until there is an independent, impartial and effective investigation to establish whether anyone else was involved in the killing, the victims of this serious crime, including Kem Ley’s wife and children, will be unable to obtain justice.”

Reported by Moniroth Morm and Sereyvuth Oung for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia Appeals Court Denial of Bail ‘Flawed’: Jailed Political Analyst’s Lawyer

The lawyer representing jailed political and social commentator Kim Sok on Wednesday called a decision by Cambodia’s Appeals Court to deny his client bail “flawed,” saying the ruling assumes he is guilty of incitement and defamation charges without having been tried.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, which was held earlier amid tightened security and closed to the press, Kim Sok’s lawyer Choung Chou Ngy said Appeals Court Judge Nguon Im had violated the principle of presumption of innocence by declaring his client ineligible for release.

“In ruling against my client’s appeal for provisional release, the court has based its reasoning on the grounds that Kim Sok shall remain in custody to prevent the crime from happening again and ensure his presence during the court proceedings,” Choung Chou Ngy said.

“I consider such grounds flawed. The court has presumed that the crime was actually committed.”

Kim Sok was arrested Feb. 17 and charged with inciting social chaos and defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen during a radio interview with RFA’s Khmer Service last month. He is being held in Prey Sar Prison on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen sued the analyst for allegedly accusing the CPP of orchestrating the July 2016 murder of popular political pundit Kem Ley, but Kim Sok has told RFA that what he said about the killing was simply a reflection of what many Cambodians believe.

Kem Ley was gunned down in broad daylight on July 10 when he stopped in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh.

Although authorities charged a former soldier, identified as Oueth Ang, with the murder, many in Cambodia don’t 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 a RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.

On Dec. 23 the Phnom Penh court quietly closed its investigation into the murder case without revealing its findings and in a final hearing on March 1, Oueth Ang confessed to killing Kem Ley.

‘New norm’

Am Sam Ath, a monitor with local rights group Licadho, told RFA’s Khmer Service Wednesday that rulings against detained activists had become the “new norm” in Cambodia’s judicial system.

“It is customary now that the courts will simply use whatever reason they can to deny applications for provisional release [for activists],” he said.

Cambodian courts are notorious for their lack of independence, and opposition politicians and critics of Hun Sen often find themselves before the courts on various charges.

Wan-Hea Lee, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) representative in Cambodia, has called for a fair trial conducted by an independent court to determine Kim Sok’s guilt or innocence.
The verdict in his case is expected to be delivered on March 23.

Reported by Moniroth Morm and Chandara Yang. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodian Government Blasts Report on CPP Moves Against Opposition

A Cambodian government spokesman on Wednesday slammed a rights group’s report condemning ruling party moves aimed at shutting down the country’s political opposition, saying the ASEAN-linked group’s views do not reflect those of the larger regional body.

The report “Death Knell for Democracy” released on March 20 by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) “reflects only the dark concept of a few individuals who have not let facts get in the way of making their wild allegations,” a spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said.

“APHR is only a small group of several current and former parliamentarians from ASEAN-member countries and has not been recognized as an entity associated with ASEAN,” the spokesman said in a statement released on March 22.

Cambodia’s ruling party under Prime Minister Hun Sen has created a “climate of fear” as the government widens a crackdown on the opposition and activists ahead of commune elections in June, APHR—a group of former and serving Southeast Asian lawmakers—said in their report on Monday.

Democracy in Cambodia is being “systematically dismantled,” APHR said, calling recently passed amendments to the country’s law on political parties the “culmination of an ongoing effort to undermine the capacity of the political opposition.”

“Over the course of the past two years, an assault on free expression, dissent, and opposition by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has targeted nearly all segments of Cambodian political life,” the report said.

“This has significantly impacted the opposition’s ability to function—both within Parliament and outside it—and has created a climate of fear, which casts a dark shadow over all of Cambodian society.”

Long-term goal

CNRP vice president and APHR member Mu Suchoa on Tuesday described the CPP’s moves as aimed at blocking the ability of Cambodia’s political opposition to campaign effectively in nationwide commune elections in June.

“This has been their strategy,” Suchoa said, quoted in a March 21 report in the Phnom Penh Post.

“Their goal has always been to weaken the opposition and silence it at all costs,” she said.

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials have warned that the CPP seeks to prevent its candidates from standing in the upcoming elections through a variety of different measures, including the passage of amendments to the political party law approved by the National Assembly on Feb. 20, despite an opposition boycott of parliament in protest.

The new law bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party and forced former CNRP president Sam Rainsy to resign last month to preserve the party. Other amendments put the party at risk of being dissolved for fanning “disunity,” which observers say is deliberately vague.

Since a “culture of dialogue” broke down with the CNRP in mid-2015, the CPP has launched a series of politically motivated cases, eroded parliamentary immunity protections, and orchestrated violence against opposition politicians, according to APHR’s report.

“The CPP’s tactics have increasingly threatened not only the safety of opposition parliamentarians, but the credibility and effectiveness of democratic institutions themselves, including the capacity of the Parliament to serve its legislative, representative, and oversight roles,” the report said.

The report noted that at least 17 opposition parliamentarians, out of 66 in the National Assembly and Senate combined, have been direct victims of harassment and attacks—judicial or physical—while others face what it called “looming threats in an unpredictable and hostile political climate.”

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

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