Cambodia: Relentless crackdown on peaceful dissent must end

The Cambodian authorities’ attempts to shut down the main opposition party ahead of next year’s general election is the latest move in a relentless effort to crush all forms of dissent, however peaceful, Amnesty International said today.

The Interior Ministry today filed a complaint with the Supreme Court asking for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to be dissolved ahead of the elections scheduled for July 2018.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government seem intent on turning Cambodia into a criticism-free state by any means necessary. The attempts to disband the opposition party ahead of next year’s crucial vote is a blatant power grab and another escalation in the authorities’ crackdown on all forms of dissent.
James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific

“Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government seem intent on turning Cambodia into a criticism-free state by any means necessary. The attempts to disband the opposition party ahead of next year’s crucial vote is a blatant power grab and another escalation in the authorities’ crackdown on all forms of dissent,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“The international community cannot stand idly by and simply watch as the human rights situation backslides rapidly in Cambodia. Key countries must immediately push the Cambodian government to end the sweeping restrictions on opposition figures’ and human rights defenders’ rights to liberty and to freedom of expression.”

The Minister argued that disbanding the CNRP would be justified because new legal amendments passed earlier in 2017 ban political parties from “conspiring with criminals”. This follows closely in the heels of CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, being arrested on trumped up “treason” charges on 3 September 2017. Kem Sokha has been kept in detention since.

The Interior Ministry’s move comes two days after the CNRP deputy leader, Mu Sochua, fled the country. Mu Sochua has told media outlets that she felt compelled to leave Cambodia because she feared arrest on politically motivated charges.

“The Cambodian authorities’ attempts to jail and harass key opposition figures through baseless and politically motivated criminal charges must end immediately. But the cases of Mu Sochua and Kem Sokha are just the tip of the iceberg,” said James Gomez.

“Human rights defenders and the media have also been targeted through harassment and regulatory measures and criminal charges, creating an extremely tense and difficult situation in which to operate. It is deeply alarming that this co-ordinated attempt to silence any opposing voices is picking up pace.”