Fear spreading through Cambodia’s civil society



The opposition leader is in jail charged with treason, senior party officials have fled abroad and fear is spreading through Cambodia’s civil society as a government crackdown [openly endorsed by China] intensifies ahead of national elections next year. The arrest of the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Kem Sokha, in a raid of his home just after midnight on Sept. 2 sent shock waves through a country already on edge after attacks on nongovernmental organizations and the media, The Washington Post reports:

In recent weeks, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America have been forced off the airwaves, an independent newspaper, the Cambodia Daily, was shuttered amid government pressure, and the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute was expelled from the country….Naly Pilorge, director of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, said the government appears to be using almost every tool at its disposal to curtail the work of civil society. This includes court cases, tax probes, hacking and “aggressive, constant” surveillance. “It’s been quite a range and it’s intensified at multiple levels,” she said, adding that the situation began worsening in the run-up to the June ballot.

Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said surveillance had expanded beyond leaders to encompass lower-level employees, who reported being followed and believed their phones were tapped. “It’s not easy to reach out to communities at the moment, as the workers are always blocked or disturbed by authorities,” he said.

The regime has accused the Cambodian opposition and NGOs of colluding with Western democracy assistance groups in a plot for ‘regime change.’

“Speculation that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) or NDI have a ‘secret agenda’ in Cambodia is wrong and baseless,’ said Jane Riley Jacobsen, senior director of public affairs at NED.

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