Cambodia’s Crackdown on Dissent

 

The Government of Cambodia under Prime Minister Hun Sen conducted a midnight raid on Sunday, September 3. Kem Sokha, the leader of the opposition party CNRP, was arrested and taken into police custody. He was accused of treason, what the government said was a US-backed plot to destabilize the country’s leadership. This is just one of the many examples of the crackdown on dissent carried out by Hun Sen, ahead of the general election next year.

Democracy in Cambodia had been making quite a progress since the coup in July 1997. Decentralization reform over the past two decades had strengthened political accountability. Khmers were able to hold local leaders accountable through local elections. The economy has performed very well; it’s been growing at a 7% rate annually since 1993. And inequality has dropped perceptibly, according to the World Bank. After thirty plus years of trying to dig themselves out of the abyss, Khmers could finally see a good future without chaos ahead.

The general election of 2013 changed Cambodia’s political landscape. Competition among political parties improved. And with the consolidation among the opposition parties, the CPP, the current ruling party, faced losing popularity. That election gave the CNRP 55 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly. The CPP lost 22 seats, their largest lost to date. And the CNRP also made an unprecedented gain in communal elections in June of this year. The CPP still controls the majority of local governments, but the CNRP’s share of local governments has increased more than 12 fold compared to the last local elections five years ago.

Local and international media and NGOs had been able to operate with little restriction from the government before the 2013 election. Since then, the government has made drastic moves to restrain political participation and free speech throughout the country. In recent weeks, government agencies have started cracking down on NGOs and independent media outlets, including the Cambodia Daily, with the latter being asked to pay a purported $6.3 million in back taxes and penalties or cease operations. The Daily, an English-language newspaper owned by an American family, ceased its publication Monday, September 4. Also, 15 radio stations have been ordered to stop broadcasting for supposedly not adhering to clauses in their contracts, requiring them to inform the Ministry of Information about who they sell their airtime to. This has disproportionately affected independent radio broadcasters Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and Voice of Democracy, and the opposition party CNRP. According to the Phnom Penh Post, “The media crackdown coincided with the shuttering of the US-funded pro-democracy NGO National Democratic Institute (NDI), which was ordered to close down by the Foreign Ministry for not being properly registered. Its foreign staff were given a week to leave the country.”

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Threatening entrenched power has always been a dangerous game. I wish the Khmer people well.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    LC: The Government of Cambodia under Prime Minister Hun Sen conducted a midnight raid on Sunday, September 3. Kem Sokha, the leader of the opposition party CNRP, was arrested and taken into police custody. He was accused of treason, what the government said was a US-backed plot to destabilize the country’s leadership.

    Yeah, and we are doing that because … because …

    Beats me. I’m out.

    We’ve got better things to do that knocking over Hun Sen’s sandcastle just because he has one. Unless he’s fixing to nuke Bangkok he wouldn’t even make the Top Ten list.  I do wish that these tin-horn tin pot dictators would come up with something original for once. Try blaming the Swiss. They’d probably get a kick out of it. We could start the rumor that anonymous is in his hollow Alp planning Libertarian world non-domination or something.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):
    We could start the rumor that anonymous is in his hollow Alp planning Libertarian world non-domination or something.

    I endorse this message.

    • #3
  4. John Park Member
    John Park
    @jpark

    Thank you for the update, LC.

    • #4
  5. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    LC, two questions is this crackdown an attempt to establish a family dynasty, and is China playing a part in trying to exert their own influence in Cambodian affairs?

    • #5
  6. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Oh, gracious, LC!  How disheartening, after such great strides had been made…Commiserations and prayers for your compatriots!

    • #6
  7. LC Member
    LC
    @LidensCheng

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    LC, two questions is this crackdown an attempt to establish a family dynasty, and is China playing a part in trying to exert their own influence in Cambodian affairs?

    I’m not sure about the family dynasty part.

    Cambodia is securely within China’s corporate embrace. Chinese investments don’t come with attachments while western ones come with conditions. China is also building a deep-water port on Cambodia’s coast that is about to finish soon. It hasn’t always been like that. Hun Sen used to refer to China as the root of all things evil until the last ten or so years when China pumped a lot of aid money with no string attached. 

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    LC (View Comment):
    Hun Sen used to refer to China as the root of all things evil until the last ten or so years when China pumped a lot of aid money with no string attached.

    Yet.

    • #8
  9. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    This is the kind of news one can hardly find outside of Ricochet. Thank you for the post.

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    None of what I said above means that I don’t want Cambodia to be free and peaceful, but the pattern is getting tiring. Hugo blamed the US for all of the effects of his economic folly, and Maduro has continued with both the blame and the folly until sooner or later it becomes necessary to do something. Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecies.

    • #10
  11. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Why not blame Japan instead of America?

    • #11
  12. LC Member
    LC
    @LidensCheng

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Why not blame Japan instead of America?

    Because Japan is Cambodia’s biggest donor since 1992. And Khmers are very fond of Japanese people. The only country that actually has any influence on Cambodia is Japan.

    • #12

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