The Cambodian government should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said today in launching a new webpage. Political Prisoners Cambodia profiles 30 current and recent political prisoners:
Political prisoners and pre-trial detainees include members and supporters of the dissolved main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP); activists; human rights defenders; and journalists reporting for independent media outlets. Each has been detained or convicted and imprisoned for criticizing or otherwise running afoul of Hun Sen or the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Most recently, on August 31, 2018, Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, 69, was convicted of espionage and sentenced to six years in prison apparently for making disparaging remarks about Hun Sen and the CPP.
“Cambodia has jailed a Who’s Who of prominent critics of Hun Sen and his ruling party,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should immediately release all political prisoners and drop all charges, including against opposition leader Kem Sokha. Hun Sen should commit to ending the arrest of critics, which he continues to use to prop up his dictatorial rule.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen appears to be working from a familiar authoritarian playbook these days, although his grip on Cambodia now is even firmer than it was after the 2013 elections, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick:
Still, he probably hopes to exploit gaps between democracies that might take harsher measures against Cambodia. (David Hutt has noted in Asia Times that the CPP also may not have wanted Kem Sokha to die in jail, which could have made him into a political martyr and rallied popular anger.) While the United States and European Union, among others, criticized the unfree July elections and are considering tougher steps, Japan, Australia, and many Southeast Asian states have been more reticent to criticize Hun Sen. Japan in particular, which sees Cambodia of great strategic importance, given Tokyo’s rivalry with Beijing over mainland Southeast Asia, has been willing to work closely with the CPP despite Hun Sen’s growing authoritarianism.
Given the cracks in the international community, Hun Sen’s gambit might well pay off this time too, Kurlantzick suggests. RTWT