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Fourth Cambodian charged for attempting ‘peasant revolt’

Human Rights Watch says charges designed to silence critics ahead of elections
US Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy (center) addresses media persons in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court following the verdict in the trial of Kem Sokha, former leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), on March 3. Western embassies have been critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s crackdown on dissent and the prosecution of leaders and supporters from opposition political parties

US Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy (center) addresses media persons in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court following the verdict in the trial of Kem Sokha, former leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), on March 3. Western embassies have been critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s crackdown on dissent and the prosecution of leaders and supporters from opposition political parties. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 24, 2023 09:31 AM GMT
Updated: May 24, 2023 09:31 AM GMT

A fourth person has been charged with plotting a ‘peasant revolution’ aimed at overthrowing the government after he took part in a workshop run by the land rights group, Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community (CCFC), in the northeast province of Ratanakkiri.

Chan Vibol, an independent researcher, was charged with plotting and incitement under articles 453, 494, and 495 of Cambodia’s criminal code alongside CCFC President Theng Savoeun and advocacy officers Nhel Pheap and Than Hach.

Plotting – which carries a jail sentence of five to 10 years – was added to the charge sheet on Tuesday evening despite protests from several hundred farmers who walked to Phnom Penh and urged Interior Minister Sar Kheng to intervene and have the charges dropped.

According to an unofficial translation by the CamboJA News, a Ratanakkiri court prosecutor described the workshop as a “secret gathering which discussed political issues to cause incitement in farmers to rise up and cause turmoil in society, leading to the overthrow of the government.”

Another government official compared the CCFC meeting with a Pol Pot-styled insurrection. His Khmer Rouge regime was responsible for the deaths of about two million people during their brutal rule between 1975 and early 1979.

The arrests have been closely followed by human rights advocates.

“Fabricating these bogus charges against prominent civil society leaders shows how far the government is willing to go to silence critics in advance of the Cambodia elections in July,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“There needs to be a chorus of international condemnation targeting Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government to demand an end to these intimidating tactics,” he added.

However, Hun Sen has told foreign governments and their embassies in Phnom Penh to “stay silent” until after the July 23 elections, saying on Tuesday: “From now until the election, please be quiet. Let us use local rules to solve the problem of democracy in Cambodia.”

Western embassies have been critical of Hun Sen’s rule and his long-running crackdown on dissent, a deterioration of democratic standards, and the prosecution of more than a hundred supporters from opposition political parties.

The European Union has also threatened sanctions, following the closure of the independent media outlet Voice of Democracy and the incarceration of Kem Sokha, the former leader of the outlawed Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who is serving a 27-year sentence.

Australia, Britain, France, Germany, the EU, and the United States have also condemned the May 11 disqualification of the opposition Candlelight Party (CLP) from contesting the poll after it failed to register the correct paperwork with the National Election Committee.

And last Friday, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights sent a letter to G7 leaders meeting in Hiroshima, expressing their “grave concerns about the state of human rights and democracy” in Southeast Asia and in Cambodia.

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