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3 held in Cambodia for planning 'peasant revolution'

Arrests made as SEA Games end, Hun Sen rejects opposition apology
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures during the closing ceremony of the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) at Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh on May 17. Three members of a farmers’ group have been arrested and accused of plotting to oust him in a 'peasant revolution

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures during the closing ceremony of the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) at Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh on May 17. Three members of a farmers’ group have been arrested and accused of plotting to oust him in a 'peasant revolution.'  (Photo:AFP)

Published: May 23, 2023 05:45 AM GMT
Updated: May 23, 2023 06:43 AM GMT

Three senior members of a farmers’ group in Cambodia have been arrested for holding training workshops amid allegations that they were plotting a "peasant revolution" which has been likened to the one instigated by Pol Pot.

The arrests of three members of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community (CCFC) were made as the authorities turned their attention from the successful staging of the Southeast Asia (SEA) Games to the July 23 election, which has invited criticism from the West and human rights units for the treatment of opposition parties.

Theng Savoeun, CCFC president, and Nhel Pheap and Than Hach, its advocacy officers, face up to two years behind bars if convicted of incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code.

Interior ministry spokesperson, Khieu Sopheak, told the independent CamboJA News outlet that Savoeun had confessed to his activities while likening the plot to a Pol Pot-styled “peasant revolution” with evidence supporting the allegations found on his computer.

It included “a manuscript teaching the people to make the peasant revolution,” Sopheak said. “What did the peasant revolution try to do?”

“It was necessary to overthrow the capitalists, the oppressed classes — whoever you are — and millions of people died because of the peasant revolution…”

"More than 100 CNRP supporters have been handed prison sentences"

Pol Pot and his hardline communists, the Khmer Rouge, devastated Cambodia when they ruled between 1975 and early 1979, resulting in the deaths of about 2 million people, amid a 30-year civil war, which resulted in the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) coming to power.

The CPP is the only party capable of winning the upcoming elections, a task made easier by the National Election Committee (NEC) since it banned the opposition Candlelight Party (CLP) from contesting the polls for failing to provide original documents regarding its formation.

Charges of plotting to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen have been made against independent media groups, the CLP and its predecessor — the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).

More than 100 CNRP supporters have been handed prison sentences, often in absentia. Its leader Kem Sokha is serving a 27-year sentence for treason while other members, like the Khmer Bible editor Theary Seng, are also serving lengthy jail terms.

On May 19, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights sent a letter to the G7 meeting in Japan to express their “grave concerns about the state of human rights and democracy” in Southeast Asia and in Cambodia.

“The situation related to human rights and democracy has drastically deteriorated in Cambodia in recent years, notably since Hun Sen used the country’s courts to dissolve the opposition CNRP in 2017, shortly after it had run close to his CPP in successive nationwide elections,” leading human rights lawmakers from Southeast Asia told the G7 gathering in Hiroshima.

The opposition in Cambodia is riddled by defections, while the NEC has disqualified the Khmer United Great Nation Party, a minor political outfit, from its first election, also for failing to provide the correct paperwork.

According to the pro-government Khmer Times, about 120 CLP and former CNRP members have defected to the ruling CPP. One CLP youth group member was cited as saying the government’s successful handling of the Games was partly behind her decision to join the CPP.

"A disappointing development which weakens the choice available to the Cambodian people"

However, an apology from CLP politician Chea Poch was not as well received by Hun Sen.

He sent a letter to the prime minister admitting that he had said “the struggle to overthrow” Hun Sen  during a meeting with party activists. This was picked up by the semi-official Fresh News, alleging he was also plotting to overthrow the government.

Chea Poch insisted he meant a peaceful non-violent change through the ballot box and that he rejected the report claiming “my goal is to overthrow Hun Sen."

But the Khmer Times quoted a letter from Hun Sen, saying the apology was unacceptable and that Chea Poch had also referred to a “military coup d’état, using the color revolution” with the goal of overthrowing his government “to the point of assassination.”

Meanwhile, Britain added its voice to the banning of the CLP from contesting the election, saying in a statement that “this is a disappointing development which weakens the choice available to the Cambodian people.”

British ambassador, Dominic Whiting, added that he hoped the CLP appeal “will conclude with a decision in keeping with the spirit of multi-party democracy.”

Australia, France, Germany and the European Union have also criticized the NEC’s disqualification of the CLP, while the United States has yet to issue a formal statement.

The Cambodian authorities dismissed the criticism, saying the NEC’s decision-making process was designed to “provide a free, fair, just, and transparent voting process” and that this will not “affect the liberal, pluralistic and democratic nature of the country.”

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