Sam Rainsy has failed to deliver on promises to save Cambodian democracy many times. (Photo: UCA News)
More than 60 leaders of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) have been charged with conspiracy and incitement and summoned to appear in court as the number of dissidents charged with plots against Cambodia’s government passed 200.
They include Sam Rainsy, who is living in self-imposed exile in France, Eng Chhay Eang, Mu Sochua and former lawmakers Ho Vann, Long Ry, Ou Chanrith and Kong Saphea. Lower-level officials including former commune councilors have also been summoned.
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), 15 people were detained on “fabricated charges” between January and June while another 80 were released on bail and could face rearrest at any time”.
Sam Sokong, a defense attorney, said more than 200 people have been arrested, charged and jailed for plotting against the government, many of them from the now dissolved opposition CNRP.
The crackdown dates back to elections in 2013 when — under Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy — the CNRP went tantalizingly close to winning the popular vote, shocking the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
The CNRP alleged widespread rigging and refused to take up their seats in the National Assembly, with Sam Rainsy leading large and sometimes violent protests.
Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the crackdown while alleging a “color revolution” was in the making and national security was at risk. The CNRP was dissolved and the CPP won every seat contested at the 2018 poll.
Kem Sokha remains under arrest on charges of treason, his trial pending, while Sam Rainsy has threatened to return from abroad and lead a nationwide rebellion. He did not say when.
Independent trade unionists, journalists and bloggers have also been arrested amid small and rare protests over recent months but many — along with Western businesses — have fled the country amid the crackdown.
The courts have also imposed travel bans, preventing many from returning home.
Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director, has urged Hun Sen to back down after threats were leveled against the family of “rebel leader” Ho Vann, who also lives overseas.
“It is bad enough to arrest peaceful protesters but it is an assault on basic decency for Hun Sen to threaten family members, including children,” Robertson said.
“Hun Sen set the tone for abuse by threatening those planning to protest the failure of the government to keep its promises on rights and democracy in the Paris Peace Agreements.”
At protests three weeks ago, authorities physically harassed local journalists, ordering them to stop interviewing people and taking photos, and halted Facebook livestreams of the protests. Police also demanded journalists delete any footage or their cameras would be confiscated.
The 60 summoned are expected to appear before Phnom Penh Municipal Court this month. Sam Rainsy’s court date has been scheduled for Nov. 26.