End repression of political opposition, independent media, and civil society

Press release

(Paris) The Cambodian government must immediately end the repression of political opposition, independent media, and civil society, FIDH said today. The call came amid an intensified crackdown against members of the opposition party, the shutting down of several media outlets, and increasing restrictions on civil society activities.

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

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

Shortly after midnight on 3 September 2017, police arrested Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha after a large group of police officers raided his home. Authorities accused Kem Sokha of treason in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the government. However, as of 4 September, no charges had been filed against him. He is currently detained at Correctional Center 3 (CC3) Prison in Kampong Cham Province.

The arrest of Kem Sokha is the latest attack against the CNRP. From 26 May to 3 December 2016, Kem Sokha was confined to the CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh to avoid arrest under charges of failing to appear in court in connection with a politically motivated case. He was convicted in absentia and subsequently pardoned on 2 December 2016.

Since October 2015, former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has been in self-imposed exile after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued an arrest warrant in connection with a defamation case filed by then Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008. Sam Rainsy was convicted in absentia and handed 20-month and five-year prison sentences in two separate politically motivated cases on 27 December 2016 and 30 March 2017 respectively.

Two other opposition legislators are also behind bars and at least eight more have pending criminal charges against them. In addition, 11 opposition party members and supporters are currently serving prison terms ranging from seven and 20 years on trumped-up charges for leading or participating in an insurrection in connection with a July 2014 demonstration that called for the reopening of Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.

The government has also directly targeted the CNRP and its leadership through the passing of repressive amendments to the Law on Political Parties in February 2017, ahead of the 4 June 2017 commune elections. The amendments allow authorities to dissolve political parties if their leaders hold criminal convictions. The law also prohibits political parties from carrying out activities that affect the “security of the state” or that would incite the “breakup of the national unity.” In an apparent move aimed at targeting Sam Rainsy, further amendments to the Law on Political Parties in July 2017 prescribe the dissolution of political parties that use the voice, image, written documents, or activities of a convicted criminal.

The increased judicial attacks against the opposition have occurred amid a recent media crackdown. Since August, the government has stepped up its offensive against independent media in the country. On 4 September 2017, the English language newspaper Cambodia Daily was forced to cease its operations after 24 years after the government threatened to shut it down over an alleged unpaid tax bill of US$6.3 million. In addition, between 23 and 28 August 2017, the government shut down 19 local radio stations for “violating contracts.”

Civil society organizations have also been targeted in the recent crackdown. On 23 August 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the US-based NGO National Democratic Institute (NDI) to halt operations and expel its foreign staff from the country within a week, citing the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO) as the legal basis for the shutdown. Prior to its adoption in July 2015, the LANGO was heavily criticized for its restrictive clauses on mandatory registration that civil society feared would be abused. In June 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Ministry of Interior to investigate The Situation Room, a consortium of election monitoring and human rights organizations that criticized certain aspects of the 2017 commune elections.

Five human rights defenders - four staff members of the FIDH member organization Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Lim Mony, and former ADHOC senior staff member Ny Chakrya - were detained on 28 April 2016 on trumped-up charges of bribery or being accomplices to bribery of a witness. They were eventually released on bail on 29 June 2017, after spending 427 days in pre-trial detention. They now await trial and have been barred from traveling abroad.

FIDH condemns the government’s ongoing crackdown on its critics and opponents and calls for all opposition members and supporters to be released and for their harassment to end. FIDH also calls for the repeal of provisions to the Law on Political Parties and the LANGO that are inconsistent with Cambodia’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). FIDH also urges the government to allow independent media to be able to freely operate.

Press contacts
Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel: +66 886117722 (Bangkok)
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