EU and HRW slam Cambodia clampdown

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Cambodia should drop all charges against the opposition leader Kem Sokha (pictured) and allow exiled critics to return to their homeland.

Meanwhile, the European Union is currently considering withdrawing trade preferences from the country of 16 million.

The EU accounts for more than a third of Cambodian exports.

A Phnom Penh court at the weekend announced the partial lifting of judicial supervision on Kem Sokha, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). He has, in effect, been under house arrest since September 2018 and is banned from engaging in political activity and cannot leave Cambodia.

The opposition chief also still faces two-year-old treason charges.

Exiled acting CNRP leader Sam Rainsy met Malaysian MPs today (Tuesday) to rally support against veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Sam Rainsy flew into Malaysia after failing to return to Cambodia by land after being refused permission to board a plane to Thailand in Paris last week.

Sam Rainsy told the media in Kuala Lumpur: “There are MPs who support democracy in Cambodia. We believe that they will promote the values of democracy and human rights for the whole of Asia.”

The European Union yesterday called for the freeing of Cambodian prisoners and the restoration of the right to oppose the government. Brussels asked for “a process of national reconciliation through genuine and inclusive dialogue”.

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, is due to discuss the possible removal of preferential trade terms from Cambodia, although a decision is not due until February.

The withdrawal of EU trade preferences under the “Everything But Arms” scheme for poorer countries could target the clothing sector, the country’s biggest employer.

“Cambodia’s release of Kem Sokha from house arrest without dropping all charges or allowing any political activities is just rebooting his mistreatment,” said HRW’s regional director Brad Adams. “The European Union and foreign governments should not be fooled but should ramp-up pressure on the government to immediately and unconditionally release Sokha and other prisoners held for exercising their basic rights.”

In 2017, Kem Sokha was charged with “colluding with foreigners”, which carries up to 30 years in prison.

In November 2017, the politicised Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 of its party members from engaging in politics for five years. The ban still applies to 107 party members.

Sam Rainsy, 70, said in August that senior party figures would return to Cambodia on November 9, Cambodian independence day.

He fled a defamation conviction and other charges in 2015 and has since largely lived in France.

HRW said that between mid-August and November 8, 105 CNRP members were charged with “fabricated” charges, including plotting against the state, incitement to commit a felony and discrediting judicial decisions.

The government reportedly told airlines they would face sanctions if they flew opposition figures to Phnom Penh and asked Thailand, Vietnam and Laos to prevent any crossings at land borders.

Kem Sokha. Picture credit: Flickr