Cambodian-Americans have expressed concerns over rising authoritarianism in their motherland at community meetings in the United States following the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha and likely dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Bou Watsithi of Woodinville, WA, told VOA Khmer that many Cambodian-Americans saw attempts to dissolve the opposition as illegal and a violation of the country’s commitment to pluralism under the Paris Peace Accords that ended the country’s civil war in 1991.
“When the government dissolves a big party it really means that they are abusing democracy and the international community will never stand for that,” he said. “I believe that the dissolution of Kem Sokha’s party and the arrest of Kem Sokha is a violation of human rights and the  election in Cambodia will not be a fair election.”
Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party ordered the arrest of Sokha, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, on treason charges after a video surfaced where he spoke about receiving advice from individuals in the United States and Canada, which the CPP interpreted as conspiring to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen in a “color revolution”.
The authorities have also shuttered independent NGOs and media outlets in recent weeks, including several radio stations broadcasting critical coverage of the government in rural areas, where it draws much of its support.
Reach Thinath, from Portland, OR, said the international community, which he noted had invested billions of dollars in Cambodia’s development since the 1990s, would be disappointed by recent developments.
“My personal view is that I would like to suggest to the Cambodian government that the opposition ... should not be dissolved in order to let the international community see that our country is among the democratic countries that have an opposition party and a ruling party,” he said.
He added that Cambodian-Americans meeting to discuss the ongoing developments in Cambodia should petition the United Nations to lobby signatories to the Paris Peace Accords to apply pressure on Phnom Penh.
Seng Sophan, director of a branch of the Election Committee for Cambodia in Canada, a lobby group, said Cambodians were witnessing a backtracking on rights and democratic oversight not seen since the 1980s.
“So it is one-party and dictator rule. People do not have freedoms and the people ... will be the victims altogether because the courts are not fair. So people are the hostages of the dictator.”
“If we remain silent, they won’t know our story,” he added. “Peaceful struggle does not mean we have to remain silent at all. We have to constantly oppose what is unjust.”
Last week, the Inter-Parliamentary Union joined calls for Sokha’s release. Previously, the United Nations, United States, European Union and others have expressed concern over the deteriorating rights situation in Cambodia.
Since Sokha’s arrest more than half of the CNRP’s serving MPs have fled abroad fearing arrest and a politicized justice system.