Hun Sen rival faces trial even as EU threatens Cambodia sanctions

Hun Sen rival faces trial even as EU threatens Cambodia sanctions

Op-Ed: Nekei Asean Review, Kem Sokha will be tried for treason despite being released from house arrest

SHAUN TURTON, Contributing Writer NOVEMBER 19, 2019 14:35 JST

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the European Union flag. The EU last week sent Cambodia its preliminary report on whether to suspend the country from special trade privileges over its human rights record. (Nikkei Montage/ Source photo by Reuters)

PHNOM PENH — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is pressing ahead with a treason case against a leading opposition figure who has just been released from house arrest, despite the nation facing European Union trade sanctions over its human rights record.

Hun Sen said on Monday that charges against Kem Sokha would not be dropped as demanded by the EU, Cambodia’s biggest export destination. “This case doesn’t require one or two days, or one month or two months, it will take a long time,” the strongman leader said.

Sokha was arrested in 2017 and faces up to 15 years in prison for what the government has claimed were plans for a U.S.-backed coup. His arrest and the subsequent Supreme Court ruling that dissolved his main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), saw Hun Sen’s ruling party capture every parliamentary seat in last year’s national election.

The crackdown, which also targeted civil society and media outlets, sparked an EU review of the country’s special trade privileges under the Everything But Arms scheme (EBA).

Losing the preference, which grants duty and quota free access to the bloc for all exports except weapons and ammunition, could be disastrous for the country’s 750,000-worker strong apparel and footwear sector, which generated more than $8 billion in exports last year.

The EU last week sent Cambodia its preliminary report on whether to suspend the country from the initiative, which is conditional on countries abiding by human and labor rights set out by the United Nations.

Its findings were not made public but a leaked copy, obtained by Radio Free Asia, reportedly concluded Cambodia had not taken enough steps to address “severe and systematic” violations of its principles.

In a statement, Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry claimed RFA’s coverage of the report was “not accurate” but did not provide any details from the document to contradict the outlet’s story. It said the government would review the report and submit “an appropriate response that will reflect updates of recent developments.”

In a sign of the mounting pressure, authorities last week relaxed house arrest conditions for Sokha, who can now travel in Cambodia but cannot leave the country or participate in political activities. The court also officially closed the case’s more than two-year investigation period.

In announcing the charges would not be dropped on Monday, Hun Sen claimed the court process was “independent,” an assertion at odds with the track record of Cambodia’s politically compliant judiciary.

President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha, right, shakes hands with European Union ambassador to Cambodia Carmen Moreno at his home in Phnom Penh on Nov. 13.   © Reuters

Just last week, Hun Sen ordered the release on bail of more than 70 opposition activists arrested for supporting failed plans by self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia and lead an uprising.

Following a familiar playbook, the moves appeared an effort to soften the oppression of opponents. The government also announced tentative steps to allowing independent media to once again purchase airtime on local radio stations.

Sebastian Strangio, author of “Hun Sen’s Cambodia,” said using prisoners as “bargaining chips” was a well established practice by the strongman over his 30 years in power.

“These types of concessions have long been part of the political game,” he said.

“The pattern has concealed a steady drift towards more and more control in Hun Sen and the CPP’s hands,” Strangio said. “The EU had to threaten half a billion dollars estimated worth of economic impacts on Cambodia in order to get Hun Sen to back down on this and it’s taken a plus to get this concession out of him.”

But whether Hun Sen’s apparent concessions will sway the EU remains to be seen. While Sokha’s improved conditions were welcomed, the move also appeared a strategic ploy to engender a split between the opposition leader and his CNRP co-founder, Sam Rainsy.

“The decision has been made to play Kem Sokha against Sam Rainsy, to dilute, diminish or marginalize Sam Rainsy at the time his status has been rising,” longtime Cambodian political commentator Lao Mong Hay told the Nikkei Asian Review. “It’s too late and too little,” he said of the concessions.

Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy talks to the media upon arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Indonesia on Thursday. He met lawmakers in Indonesia before returning to his base in Paris.   © AP

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Hun Sen orders release of 70 Cambodia opposition activists

Hun Sen orders release of 70 Cambodia opposition activists

Longtime leader says people who had been accused of plotting to overthrow the government should be released on bail.

Cambodia's longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the release of 70 opposition activists. [Samrang Pring/Reuters]
Cambodia’s longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the release of 70 opposition activists. [Samrang Pring/Reuters]

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday ordered the release on bail of more than 70 opposition activists who have been arrested in recent weeks and accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 34 years, has been under increasing international pressure to improve his human rights record, with the European Union threatening the withdrawal of important trade benefits.

“There are over 70 people, please hurry up work on this case so that these brothers can be released on bail,” Hun Sen said in a speech at a new cement factory in the southern province of Kampot, in comments directed at judicial authorities.

Cambodia arrested dozens of people in the run-up to last Saturday, when veteran opposition leader Sam Rainsy had said he would return from self-imposed exile in Paris to rally opposition to Hun Sen.

Trade in balance

In the event, amid growing government pressure on his party and its supporters, Rainsy flew to Malaysia before arriving in Indonesia on Thursday. He said he had been prevented from flying to Thailand where his deputy, Mu Sochua, had been refused entry last month.

On Saturday, Cambodia also relaxed the house arrest conditions on opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was arrested on treason charges more than two years ago. He says the charges are ridiculous and has called for them to be dropped.

Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy co-founded the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was banned in 2017.

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Can Cambodia’s opposition keep pressure on PM Hun Sen?

Opposition leader Kem Sokha has been released from house arrest but the crackdown on dissent continues.

Inside Story11 Nov 2019 20:17 GMT CambodiaAsia Pacific

Cambodia‘s Prime Minister Hun Sen has silenced nearly all voices of dissent in recent years.

His government shut down independent media and dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was freed after a year of house arrest, but he still faces severe restrictions and is banned from leaving the country.

His colleagues, including party co-founder Sam Rainsy, are facing challenges of their own as they try to return to Cambodia from exile.

This is happening as the government faces international condemnation for undermining democracy and human rights.

Can they maintain the pressure despite a government crackdown?

Presenter: Nastasya Tay

Guests:

Sam Rainsy – acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party

Graham Ong-Webb – research fellow at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies

Benjamin Zawacki – independent Southeast Asia analyst and author

Source: Al Jazeera News

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Why a 65-year-old grandmother is freely flying to probable imprisonment in Cambodia

“My daughters would rather I take a break from politics. They are worried about me,” Sochua admitted when we had lunch together before she left on her way home. “But they’ve decided to support me as a woman defending democracy and human rights. And yes, I’ll miss the grandchildren.”

កូនរបស់ខ្ញុំថាខ្ញុំគួរតែឈប់សម្រាកពីនយោបាយ។ ពួកគេបារម្មណ៍អំពីខ្ញុំ ៉ អ្នកស្រីមួរ សុខហួរទទួលស្គាល់ការពិតនៅពេលពួកយើងទទួលទានអាហារត្រង់ជាមួយគ្នា។ ប៉ុន្តែពួកគេបានសម្រេចចិត្តគាំទ្រខ្ញុំក្នុងនាមជាស្ត្រីការពារលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យនិងសិទ្ធិមនុស្ស។ ហើយពិតណាស់ ខ្ញុំនឹកដល់ចៅៗខ្ញុំណាស់។

Why a 65-year-old grandmother is freely flying to probable imprisonment in Cambodia

Mu Sochua, vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, speaks during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday. (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)
Mu Sochua, vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, speaks during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday. (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)

By Elizabeth Becker November 6, 2019 at 12:02 p.m. PST, Washington Post

Elizabeth Becker is a former Post war correspondent in Cambodia and author of “When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution.”

In a few days, a 65-year-old grandmother will freely board a plane on a journey to probable imprisonment in a foul Cambodian jail. Mu Sochua, one of Cambodia’s most influential politicians, is the vice president of the outlawed opposition party trying to return democracy to Cambodia. She carries a U.S. passport but is under no illusion that this will protect her from the ire of Hun Sen, the strongman of Cambodia.

He has marked her as one of the country’s most dangerous traitors and has ordered the Cambodian army and police to use force to stop her and her colleagues from entering the country by land, sea or air. But Sochua and her peers thoughtfully announced their date of return in advance: Nov. 9, Cambodian Independence Day.AD

“This is the moment to go back,” Sochua told me. “Inside Cambodia, fear is everywhere. I can’t accept that Hun Sen continues as a cruel dictator.”

Sochua is a reminder of the unbearable personal sacrifices required to protect and promote democracy in this age of brutal tyrants, especially for women. We met decades ago when she opened the first nongovernmental organization for women’s rights in peacetime Cambodia, tackling domestic violence, human trafficking and gender equality under the law. Over the years, we shared our enjoyment of gossip, mutual admiration of Cambodian architecture and her hopes to pull the country closer to the ideals she absorbed in the United States.

Sochua was a practical idealist in a country traumatized by the Khmer Rouge genocide. After her parents sent all four children overseas to study when the Vietnam War spread into Cambodia in 1970, Sochua ended up in the Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State and earning a master’s degree in social work from the University of California at Berkeley. She was on the cusp of the successful immigrant path — bright career, professional security and family.AD

Instead, she spent the next five years on the Thai border helping Cambodian refugees, honoring her parents who had disappeared under the Khmer Rouge. At the border camps, she met her husband, Scott Leiper, a Khmer-speaking American who was working to reunite children with their parents. They moved to the broken mess that was Cambodia and, with a family of three daughters, threw themselves into the country’s recovery: Leiper with the United Nations, Sochua from NGOs to politics.

As a Cambodian woman, Sochua faced huge pushback in the male-dominated political arena. Her daughters noticed what she was going through — the rough behavior, betrayals and threats of violence. Despite the obstacles, she won a seat in parliament and then became the first woman to head the Ministry for Women, chalking up success with new laws and the addition of women throughout government.

But Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge officer, pushed out his co-prime minister to rule Cambodia on his own and add to the spectacular corruption that had made him, his family and cronies multimillionaires in a poor nation. Sochua left the government to join the opposition. The country was looking for change and, in 2017, her party — the Cambodia National Rescue Party — scored an unexpected victory in local elections. The CNRP appeared headed for an even better showing in the upcoming national elections.

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