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Cambodia Invokes Trump Impeachment to Justify Sam Rainsy, CNRP Persecution


FILE - A man rides a motorcycle past the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 17, 2017. (REUTERS/Samrang Pring)

Cambodia’s UN office in Geneva made a thinly-veiled equivalence between its legal targeting of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and former CNRP members to the impeachment of former U.S. President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection in January.

Cambodia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva released a document titled “Cambodia Human Rights Situation II” to provide “factual and legal clarifications” for its actions “to shield law-abiding citizens” against dissidents.

The document does not mention any countries specifically, instead makes oblique and thinly-veiled accusations of “double standards” from Western nations, while justifying its own actions domestically.

Cambodia’s UN mission said the condemnation of Donald Trump for allegedly egging on rioters to storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. was no different from legal actions taken by the government against Sam Rainsy and more than 100 former Cambodia National Rescue Party members for supporting the former’s unsuccessful return to Cambodia in 2019.

“Paradoxically, the same measures, when employed in the above-said countries, are considered necessary and lawful to maintain public order and social stability as well as to uphold their sovereignty,” read the document, without naming a specific country.

Donald Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for inciting his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol in early January but was acquitted by the Senate last weekend. Members of Congress were certifying the election of President Joe Biden during the insurrection.

Capitol police officers in riot gear push back demonstrators who try to break a door of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Capitol police officers in riot gear push back demonstrators who try to break a door of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Whereas, Sam Rainsy had planned to return to Cambodia in 2019 and the government has alleged that efforts to fund, assemble supporters and welcome him were an attempt to overthrow the government. The Phnom Penh court is trying at least 130 defendants for charges linked to the 2019 failed return.

The document also defended actions taken against Cambodian journalists who have been sentenced for alleged incitement on three separate occasions. They include TVFB’s Sovann Rithy, Kampong Chhnang journalist Sok Oudom and newspaper publisher Ros Sokhet.

“Charges against a handful of reporters have nothing to do with the exercise of press freedom or mere quoting of public officials’ statement, but a crime related to incitement of hatred and violence with malicious intention, which is prescribed in articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s penal code, crafted with the help of Western legal experts,” the document added.

Sok Eysan, a spokesperson for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the rights groups and countries criticizing Cambodia’s use of incitement charges were themselves biased and supportive of the banned “opposition group.” He too pointed to Donald Trump’s incitement of rioters last month.

“The second impeachment in the U.S. parliament against Donald Trump clearly shows that he incited his activists to use violence on the U.S. capitol causing deaths,” he said.

Chad Roedemeier, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Phnom Penh, said the United States government was in compliance with its own constitution and did not curtail the “freedoms of speech or the press, or the right to assemble peaceably.”

“As a friend of the Cambodian people, the United States has called on Cambodia to protect freedom of expression, as enshrined by the country’s constitution. The peaceful expression of criticism and dissent is important for the democratic process,” he said in an email on Tuesday.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Prime Minister Hun Sen himself had given speeches in the past threatening his detractors and inciting violence against political opponents.

“Such ludicrous comparisons really show that either Cambodia’s political propaganda is off the charts, or they are not getting their money’s worth from whatever public relations firm they hired to write this report,” he added.

Pa Chanroeun, president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, was not convinced with the government’s arguments and attempt to extrapolate the Donald Trump incident to the local political situation in the country.

“It is not right to compare between the protests, freedom of expression [in Cambodia] and the Trump case,” Pa Chanroeun said. “If we want to compare the U.S to Cambodia, then we should look at good points.”

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