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Cambodian dissidents in court as CPP wins Senate polls

Human rights group sharply rebukes Cambodia’s 'one family state'
People protest against the government in Cambodia outside the venue for the Australia-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Melbourne on March 4, 2024.

People protest against the government in Cambodia outside the venue for the Australia-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Melbourne on March 4, 2024. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 07, 2024 04:01 AM GMT
Updated: March 07, 2024 04:21 AM GMT

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has officially won 55 of the 58 seats contested at last month’s Senate election which was roundly criticized by human rights groups, and as opposition politicians and their supporters were again up before the courts.

Results announced by the National Election Committee also confirmed the Khmer Will Party won three seats while Funcinpec — once a political powerhouse in this country — and the National Power Party failed to win in any of the constituencies.

The overwhelming victory anchored the CPP and the family of former prime minister Hun Sen who handed power to his eldest son, Hun Manet, after his ruling party won almost absolute control of the National Assembly in the general election last year.

Control of both houses was made possible after the disqualification of the main opposition Candlelight Party (CP), prompting the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) to remark that the election “was yet another electoral charade”.

APHR board member and member of the Philippine National Assembly, Arlene Brosas, also noted that Hun Sen had been elected Senate president while his youngest son Hun Many, was recently named as a deputy prime minister.

“We urge the international community to open their eyes to the Hun family’s consolidation of power and take action to stop the continuing democratic decline in Cambodia,” she said in a statement. “We are deeply concerned that Cambodia will not only be a one-party state, but also a one-family state.”

"Peaceful political expression and dissent will continue to be treated as crimes"

As officials were finalizing the count, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced CP activist Loeu Makara to 18 months in prison for interfering with voters during the general election, commuted to eight months with the remainder of the term suspended.

The same court also upheld the three year sentence for CP vice-president Thach Setha who was jailed by the a lower court for allegedly inciting people to overthrow the government and inciting discrimination against CPP leaders.

Brosas said additional concerns included a CPP defamation suit filed against Soeng Senkaruna, deputy head of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, and a denial by the courts to overturn a 27-year sentence being served by former opposition leader Kem Sokha.

“These incidents are just the latest signs that peaceful political expression and dissent will continue to be treated as crimes under the supposedly ‘new’ Cambodian government,” she said.

“We implore parliamentarians in democratic countries in Southeast Asia and across the world to strongly call out the Cambodian government to end all forms of political persecution,” Brosas said, while urging the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.

Human rights groups say there are about 60 political prisoners being held in Cambodia, Kem Sokha, the Khmer Bible editor and lawyer Theary Seng and trade unionist Chhim Sithar among them.

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