The Cambodian government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the closure of a major U.S.-funded “democracy promotion” group, the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
The announcement on Wednesday comes amid a broad crackdown on non-governmental groups and critical media outlets ahead of a crucial general election next year, rights groups have said.
In a statement, the foreign ministry said it had ordered NDI’s foreign staff to leave the country within a week.
It added that the government would take similar action against other NGOs that were found to have violated the controversial law governing NGOs.
A foreign ministry spokesperson could not be reached for comment. John Cavanaugh, NDI’s executive director in Cambodia, did not respond to a request for comment.
The NDI, founded in 1992, works internationally to promote democracy around the world, but has come under fire from critics for its alleged role in promoting U.S. soft power and regime change, a charge often leveled at civil society and the opposition in Cambodia by Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The foreign ministry said in its statement that since the passage of the NGO law in August 2015, the NDI had continued to operate despite not having been granted a license since it requested one in June 2016.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the closure of NDI would “undermine the practice of democracy in Cambodia”.
“It can be seen that we will not achieve our goal, which is to ensure the real democracy in Cambodia.”
The announcement of the imminent closure of NDI came after a pro-government website, Fresh News, published an article containing claims that the group planned to conspire with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to “overthrow” the government.