More than two years after the main opposition party was dissolved and independent media were shuttered, rights group Amnesty International said civil and political rights, and press freedom in Cambodia remain severely constrained.
In a report released January 30, Amnesty International said activists and critics of Cambodia’s long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen continued to face “harassment and intimidation through misuse of the justice system.”
The group, which works to promote human rights and democratic values, also pointed to the harassment of journalists, which they said has led to self-censorship in the media.
“Severe restrictions on the right to freedom of expression perpetuated a culture of fear and self-censorship among Cambodia’s few remaining independent journalists and media outlets,” the report said.
A 2017 government crackdown saw the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, the closure of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the shuttering of independent newspaper The Cambodia Daily and radio broadcaster Radio Free Asia.
Kem Sokha is currently on trial for treason, a case condemned widely by human rights groups.
Hun Sen, whose party won all parliamentary seats in what observers have called a “sham” election in 2018, last November deployed the military and pressured countries in ASEAN to prevent the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is in self-exile in France.
Dozens of grassroots opposition supporters have been arrested, the report noted, especially in the weeks leading up to the Sam Rainsy’s attempted return to Cambodia last November. At least 80 activists and opposition members were arrested, only to be released on bail later.
“The harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of supporters of the CNRP intensified throughout the year, culminating in a major crackdown related to the potential return to Cambodia of acting CNRP president Sam Rainsy on 9 November,” it stated.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan called the report “baseless” and said its authors were outside Cambodia and therefore unable to witness firsthand the “improvement” of “human rights and peace” in Cambodia.
“The report is based on their ideas; it does not follow the professional reporting methods,” Siphan said.
The report came just two weeks after a similar report from Human Rights Watch, which stated similar concerns. Reacting to that report a government spokesperson Chin Malin said the human rights group wanted to take revenge against Cambodia, though failing to elaborate on his accusation.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at rights group Licadho, said that the report was projecting an accurate assessment of Cambodia’s human rights situation.
“If we look at reality, what they have raised since 2017 until now, there is a lot of truth to that,” he said.
The report’s findings also showed that there was heightened surveillance of people and groups, considered to be pro-opposition, as was evident at the grassroots level.
“Outspoken NGOs were subjected to unlawful surveillance, threats and intimidation by police and local authorities,” the report said.
“Routine NGO events, such as workshops, continued to be shut down despite the revocation of a ministerial regulation that required prior permission for such events.”
The European Commission has been investigating Cambodia’s human right situation and can potentially suspend critical trade preferences next month if it finds no improvements in the country’s rights record.