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Cambodia Passes Further Changes to Political Parties Law Targeting Former Opposition Leader

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2015 file photo, Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), waves from a car upon his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as hundreds of cheering supporters greeted him on his return from a trip abroad. The head of Cambodia's opposition party has announced his resignation from the group after the country's long-serving prime minister announced plans for a law that could lead to the party's dissolution. Rainsy announced his resignation Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 in a letter to his Cambodia National Rescue Party.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File)

The former opposition president, Sam Rainsy, though not named during the debate around the changes, is thought to be the target of the amendments.

Parliament has passed more amendments to the law to block political parties from making use of campaign material produced by convicted criminals.

The amendments were voted through on Monday amid an opposition boycott of the National Assembly session.

The former opposition president, Sam Rainsy, though not named during the debate around the changes, is thought to be the target of the amendments.

Rainsy is living in self-imposed exile after years-old criminal defamation conviction was revived in 2015. He is also facing fresh defamation charges and could face at least two years in prison if he returns to Cambodia.

Speaking during the session, Hun Many, a Kampong Speu lawmaker and son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, claimed the amendments were not aimed at any one individual.

“If someone violates the law, he or she should be punished in order to maintain peace, stability and benefit the nation. To promote national prestige and international competition. To attract economic interest in the nation,” he said.

The political parties law was passed in 1997 but amended in February ahead of local elections to ban convicted criminals from leading political parties. The move led to Rainsy’s resignation as president over fears his Cambodia National Rescue Party could be dissolved if he remained in the position.

Under the new rules, the CNRP would not be able to use audio, visual or written material produced by Rainsy and could not be seen to “affiliate” with Rainsy. Breaking the rules could lead to the party’s dissolution.

In a statement, the CNRP said the amendments were politically motivated and intended to restrict freedom of expression.

“The Cambodia National Rescue Party members do not support [the amendments] and request to end the amendment of the Law on Political Parties in order to maintain an independent and united nation,” it said.

Chan Vibol, a political scientist, said the amendments undermined democracy in Cambodia in the eyes of the world.

“It seems they are concerned with the powerful influence of Sam Rainsy on his supporters in the run up to the election in 2018,” he said, referring to the general election scheduled for next year.