The United States on Wednesday said it will block entry to Cambodians whom Washington deems are “undermining democracy in Cambodia” and called on Phnom Penh to reverse an anti-democratic crackdown on the opposition.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court ordered the country’s main opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, dissolved last month and banned more than 100 of its officials from politics for five years. It accused the party of trying to overthrow the government.
The order from the court, which is staffed by ruling Cambodian People’s Party members and supporters, was the culmination of months of political crisis that saw the CNRP President Kem Sokha jailed on treason charges, media outlets shuttered, journalists jailed and civil society targeted.
The State Department declined to name which Cambodians had been specifically targeted by the visa ban.
“In direct response to the Cambodian government’s series of anti-democratic actions, we announce the Secretary of State will restrict entry into the United States of those individuals involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia,” it said in a statement.
Family members of those individuals will also be subjected to visa restrictions, according to the statement.
The US repeated its call on the Cambodian government to reverse course by reinstating the political opposition, releasing Kem Sokha, and allowing civil society and media to resume their constitutionally protected activities.
“Such actions could lead to a lifting of these travel restrictions and increase the potential for Cambodia’s 2018 electoral process to regain legitimacy,” a State Department spokeswoman said.
The CNRP welcomed the decision.
“I hope that every step the US has taken will make the Cambodian government reconsider its action and tries to find a solution so that Cambodia can move forward without any other sanctions,” said Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy director general for Public Affairs and Sokha’s daughter.
The Cambodian Embassy in Washington, DC, said it regretted the decision, adding it was expected.
“This decision is not based on facts and reality that we’re using to protect the people’s rights and law enforcement,” Cambodian Ambassador Chum Bunrong said.
A Cambodian government spokesman said the U.S. action was intended “to destroy the good relations” between the two countries and added that complying with the request would mean opposing the rule of law in Cambodia.
Monovithya added that she hoped the U.S. would go further and impose asset freezes on the individuals concerned.