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Global civil society groups appeal for action on Cambodian democracy crisis

Global civil society organizations call on major parliaments to address Cambodia’s democratic decline and human rights violations ahead of the 2024 Senate Election.

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Civil society organizations worldwide have issued an urgent appeal to major global parliaments, expressing deep concerns over the rapidly deteriorating state of democracy and human rights in Cambodia.

Following the 2023 General Election, marked by accusations of authoritarian tactics, these groups are calling for international intervention ahead of the 2024 Senate Election.

The open letter, addressed to the parliaments of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Japan, highlights the growing alarm over Cambodia’s democratic backslide.

The signatories, including prominent groups like ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, point to the systematic repression of opposition voices and the manipulation of electoral processes under the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and its leader Hun Sen.

A key concern raised is the recent general election, which critics say was marred by the disqualification of major opposition figures and resulted in a near-total sweep for the CPP.

The letter noted the drastically deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia has been well-documented by experts and civil society organizations, notably since former Prime Minister Hun Sen used the country’s courts to dissolve the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2017.

This occurred shortly after the CNRP demonstrated itself to be a real threat for Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)  in successive nationwide elections.

Following a systematic undermining and repression of political opponents, including by disqualifying the main opposition Candlelight Party, the 2023 General Election resulted in a landslide victory for the CPP, securing 120 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly.

Shortly after the election, Hun Sen resigned and his son and former chief of the Cambodian army Hun Manet took over as Prime Minister.

Since then, Hun Manet has attempted to portray himself as a new start for Cambodia. However, Hun Sen’s continued dominance within the CPP and the continued attacks against political opposition clearly demonstrate that this is not the case.

After Hun Manet’s appointment, a dissident and his wife were brutally assaulted in broad daylight a month into Hun Manet’s term. This attack shares similarities with assaults reported earlier in 2023 against members of the opposition Candlelight Party where a group of men in black clothes and helmets on motorcycles assaulted opposition members with metal rods.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders continue to be prosecuted and convicted on trumped-up and politically-motivated charges. In October, Thach Setha, a vice president of the CLP, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for incitement to commit a felony and incitement to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or nationality.

The charge was based on remarks posted on social media that he made in January about then-Prime Minister Hun Sen’s relationship with neighboring Vietnam. This sentence came three months after Thach Setha was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly passing fraudulent checks.

In the same month, the now-banned CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Eng Chhai Eang, Ho Vann, and 6 activists, were sentenced to prison terms in a case connected to social media comments made in 2021.

The opposition leaders called for suspension of debt repayment during the COVID-19, while human rights activists called out high-ranking officials buying citizenship in Cyprus. Phnom Penh Municipal Court also issued an arrest warrant for the four opposition leaders, all of whom live outside of Cambodia.

All 12 defendants were convicted of incitement and conspiracy to commit treason.

Hun Sen himself retains his title as the leader of the CCP, and has said he will become head of the Senate and of the Supreme Council of the King. He has further publicly expressed that he would “continue to wield influence behind the scenes” and may “retake the prime ministership” in the event of instability or in-fighting.

The letter says that it is evident that the upcoming Senate Election is at risk of being another electoral charade without stronger demands and actions from the international community.

Furthermore, the letter criticizes Hun Sen’s ongoing influence in the CPP and his potential return to power. The situation is described as a threat to the upcoming Senate election, which is feared to be yet another manipulated event, especially given the intimidation and harassment of opposition party members.

“The current electoral landscape has effectively blocked the Candlelight Party participation, and the threat of its complete disbandment continues to loom. We have received reports that local Candlelight Party councilors have been the target of intimidation and judicial harassment from CPP commune chiefs, with many being imprisoned on flimsy grounds, resulting in intense pressure to defect to the ruling party. This situation raises serious concerns about the freedom and fairness of the upcoming Senate election slated for February 2024.”

The coalition of civil society groups is urging international parliaments to take a stand against these abuses.

They call for actions, including legislative measures and public statements, to pressure the Cambodian government to end political persecution, release political prisoners, and ensure free and fair elections.

The groups emphasize Cambodia’s obligations as a United Nations member and stress the need for the international community’s firm response to prevent the country from slipping further into authoritarianism.

The letter ends with a call to global parliamentarians to unite in sending a strong message to the Cambodian government that its current trajectory is unacceptable and will face international resistance.

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why our pineapple prez, or the ex-prez Haliman never comment on this on ZUCCbook? deepthink.

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