PHNOM PENH —
Prak Sokhon, Cambodia’s foreign minister, has defended the government over its crackdown on journalists and the dissolution of the country’s main opposition party on spurious charges last week.
Sokhon made the comments in a meeting with Gunnar Wiegand, managing director of the European Union’s foreign service, and George Edgar, E.U. ambassador, last week, according to a statement from the foreign ministry.
According to the government’s account of the meeting, Sokhon said groups including the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S. government-funded democracy promotion group, and the Cambodia Daily newspaper had closed of their own accord after the government notified NDI that it did not have proper authorization to operate and that the Cambodia Daily owed the government millions of dollars in back taxes and interest.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had no choice but to stop the activity of this NGO,” he said in the statement, referring to the NDI.
The NDI, however, says it was not given an opportunity to register and considered the move a deliberate decision to exclude it from the democratic process ahead of next year’s general election.
Similarly, the Cambodia Daily management alleges that the levying of a large tax bill was intended to close its operations ahead of the election.
Sokhon said the dissolution of the CNRP was a decision made independently by the Supreme Court.
The judge who presided over the case is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and said to be close to Hun Sen. Sokhon told the E.U. officials “Cambodia will not return to one-party rule.”
The Cambodia National Rescue Party, the only serious challenger to Hun Sen’s CPP, was ordered dissolved by the Supreme Court on Thursday in a case widely seen as politically motivated.
In a statement following the decision, the E.U. said: “An electoral process from which the main opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded is not legitimate. The enforced dissolution of the CNRP effectively disenfranchises all those who gave the party their support in the elections in 2013 and 2017. A situation in which all parties, including the CNRP, their leaders, and their supporters are able to carry out freely their legitimate functions, must be swiftly restored.”
It added that if Cambodia wishes to continue to benefit from the so-called Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme, it must ensure respect for human rights and the democratic process.
A foreign ministry spokesman could not be reached.