The European Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution calling on the Cambodian government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen to stop persecuting and intimidating political opponents, trade unionists, human rights defenders and journalists ahead of local elections in June and national campaigns next year.
The government of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, is now five years into a no-holds-barred crackdown on its political opposition and civil society, jailing or driving into exile scores of opposition figures.
The resolution, which was adopted with 526 votes in favor and only five votes against (another 63 members abstained), condemns the Cambodian Supreme Court’s dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s largest opposition party, in November 2017.
The European Parliament repeated its call for charges against former CNRP leaders Kem Sokha, Sam Rainsy and Mu Sochua and other opposition officials to be dropped and urged authorities to release all prisoners of conscience, journalists, human rights defenders, environmental activists and union members.
The CNRP was banned for its supposed role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government. With the CNRP out of the picture, Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) went on to win all 125 seats in the country’s July 2018 general election.
Since then, the government has continued to target activists associated with the CNRP, arresting them on arbitrary charges and placing them in pretrial detention in overcrowded jails with harsh conditions.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he doesn’t understand why the resolution was passed given discussions with the Cambodia’s EU representative on the progress the country has made in regard to human rights.
“So far, individuals have breached the law, so [that] is the issue between the court and those individuals,” he said. “What the EU raised was a political matter that we already have explained. If they raise the same issue, we will explain it to them again because we are strengthening the law and the rule of law.”
Men Vanna, who served as leader of the youth movement for the CNRP, told RFA that the resolution will give hope to Cambodian’s fighting for a more democratic country.
The government “must change if they love democracy and the country,” he said.
‘Friday Wives’ petition US Embassy
Also on Friday, a group of spouses whose husbands are in jail for political activities staged a protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh to call on the government to push for their release before a special U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Washington on May 12-13.
Cambodia currently holds the rotating chair position of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
About 10 women from the group “Friday Wives” handed a petition to the embassy seeking U.S. support.
At least 60 CNRP activists have been imprisoned. Some of the former members of the banned political party have been convicted as others are being tried.
“Please release our husbands. We are suffering, our families are splitting apart,” one of the women, Prum Chantha, said. “In Cambodia, people don’t give credit to politicians, but rather prosecute them. This shows that Cambodia doesn’t respect human rights and democracy.”
Another protester, Ouk Chanthy, whose husband has been detained for two years, said she hopes that the U.S. will pressure the Cambodian government at the summit to release her husband “in order to restore Cambodia’s reputation.”
“Hun Sen is heading to the U.S. as the ASEAN chair,” she said. “I urge him to drop all charges against political opponents and release them. Should Hun Sen represent ASEAN when Cambodia has imprisoned politicians who haven’t committed any crimes?”
Phnom Penh security guards harassed the women, injuring at least two of them and destroying their banners.
Kata Orn, spokesman for the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, an organ for the government, said the guards responded to the women because they allegedly assaulted the guards.
He also said the government has nothing to do with the cases against the women’s husbands.
“Cambodia isn’t worried about international pressure during the U.S.-ASEAN Summit,” he said.
Translate by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.