UCA News

Cambodia

Cambodia accused of using Covid-19 for political clampdown

Those arrested, including political opponents, were accused of incitement, conspiracy and spreading rumors

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Updated: March 26, 2020 08:09 AM GMT
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Cambodia accused of using Covid-19 for political clampdown

Chinese medical experts on the coronavirus arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport on March 23 to help Cambodian authorities deal with the pandemic. (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)

Share this article :
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced a plan to declare a state of emergency to fight the spread of coronavirus amid allegations of a political clampdown in the name of combating the pandemic.

Hun Sen revealed the plan on March 25 while addressing a task force meant to tackle the pandemic in the country, which had reported 96 cases as of March 26. 

"I am considering using Article 22 of the constitution to request that the king place the country under a state of emergency," Hun Sen said.

"I do not want to do it, but I will if my bans are not effective," he added, referring to restrictions, such as sharing information, already put in place.

The announcement came a day after US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the government of the predominantly Buddhist nation of detaining activists and opposition leaders in the name of fighting the virus outbreak.

Since late January, 17 people have been arrested for sharing information about the coronavirus in Cambodia, the rights group said on March 24.

Police accused those arrested of violating the penal code and engaging in incitement, conspiracy and spreading rumors, HRW added.

The arrested include four members of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

The government "is misusing the Covid-19 outbreak to lock up opposition activists and others expressing concern about the virus and the government's response," said Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director.

"It's truly frightening" that the Cambodian government "seems more interested in silencing online critics than undertaking a massive Covid-19 public information campaign," Radio Free Asia quoted Robertson as saying.

Teenager detained

A 14-year-old girl, who on social media posted her fears of coronavirus cases at her school and in her province, was among the detained, the rights group said.

Among those arrested was Phut Thona Lorn, also known as Lorn Ly, an opposition party supporter. He was detained in the tourist city of Siem Reap.

Lorn Ly had shared two videos on his Facebook account, asking long-time ruler Hun Sen to take more steps to tide over the epidemic crisis. He has been accused of spreading fake news by the Siem Reap provincial court.

HRW said 12 persons were released after signing pledges not to spread fake news.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, confirmed some arrests but dismissed the rights group's allegations, saying such measures were adopted to fight false information about the coronavirus.

The social media postings, Siphan said, were "disturbing and dangerous to people, and created a panic that affects national security."

'Hun Sen took it easy.'

Hun Sen initially downplayed the risk of the coronavirus, and on Jan. 30 he warned reporters and officials who were wearing face masks at a news conference.

On Feb. 14, he went to the port city of Sihanoukville to welcome over 2,000 passengers of the cruise ship MS Westerdam, who were refused entry by several countries on suspicion of coronavirus.

On March 17, Hun Sen was forced to change course and imposed a 30-day ban on arrivals from Italy, Germany, Spain, France, the United States and Iran, where the pandemic has wreaked havoc.

HRW said Hun Sen has so far failed to implement an effective health campaign. "The relatively low number of cases reported raises the question of whether sufficient tests are being conducted or necessary information is being shared with the people," the group said.

Hun Sen recently directed provincial authorities to convert schools into makeshift hospitals, The Phnom Penh Post reported.

He has also sought medical aid from China, which has provided 100,000 pieces of medical protective gear and equipment, according to the country's health department.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
YOUR DAILY
NEWSLETTER
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
 
Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM

Publisher

Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."