Supporters of Rong Chhun, leader of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, protest in front of Phnom Penh municipal court on Aug. 1. He was arrested in the latest crackdown against opposition voices in the kingdom. (Photo: AFP)
Cambodian authorities should stop harassing and forcibly dispersing family members protesting the detention of opposition political activists in Phnom Penh, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.
“Videos of police dragging peaceful protesters on the street and forcibly jamming them into vehicles should raise global concern about police abuse in Cambodia,” said Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director.
“The authorities should immediately end violent tactics against peaceful protesters and respect the rights to free expression and assembly.”
Relatives of detained members of the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) have staged weekly protests outside the Phnom Penh municipal court for seven Fridays in a row.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and foreign embassies have also been petitioned, with the US embassy in Phnom Penh condemning police harassment.
“More foreign governments should join the US in calling on the Cambodian government to respect the rights of peaceful protesters,” Robertson said. “Seeking justice for one’s wrongfully detained relatives is not a crime.”
The CNRP went tantalizingly close to winning a majority in the National Assembly at elections in 2013. Its leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha refused to accept the result and claimed that widespread rigging had thwarted their bid to win.
Mass street demonstrations, often violent, followed and the party was banned from contesting the 2018 poll as Prime Minister Hun Sen alleged a conspiracy to foment a color revolution.
Independent media outlets closed or were sold to government-friendly interests, Sam Rainsy fled to France while Kem Sokha and many of his supporters were jailed. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) then won every seat in the assembly.
Robertson said 17 CNRP activists had been jailed since January and accused Hun Sen of using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to pass draconian laws designed to suppress his critics.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen is once again brutally cracking down on peaceful protesters, ignoring the pleas of family members whose relatives have been arbitrarily detained,” Robertson said.
“Foreign governments and donors should respond to the petitions from the opposition party members’ relatives and speak up for those peacefully expressing their views.”
Kem Sokha remains under house arrest on treason charges.
Robertson added that Cambodian authorities were now holding more than 20 CNRP members in prison, primarily based “on fabricated charges of incitement to commit a felony” connected to their political statements or social media postings.
New laws also govern a state of emergency which, if declared, would permit a blanket suppression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, he said. The government would also be able to monitor private communications and grant itself unfettered martial powers.