The European Parliament on Thursday voted in favor of a resolution calling for political freedoms in Cambodia and sanctions against the government.
The resolution called for dropping all charges against the country’s former opposition leader, Kem Sokha, who was placed under house arrest earlier this week after more than a year in detention.
Sokha was arrested in September on treason charges and his Cambodia National Rescue Party dissolved by the Supreme Court over allegations its members plotted to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Critics of the government’s widespread crackdown on the opposition, independent media and civil society in the run-up to the general election in July, which Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party won by a landslide, say the charges are politically motivated.
The EU resolution calls for asset freezes on senior Cambodian officials and action to be taken over Cambodia’s membership of preferential trading schemes.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign and security representative, said Cambodia’s “fragile” democracy had taken steps backward in recent years.
“Recent release on bail of opposition leader Kem Sokha is a positive first step even though he was released under very restrictive conditions,” Mogherini told the EU parliament. “We now expect the dropping of all charges and removal of all restrictions placed upon him and we invite the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition to start a dialogue on the way forward.”
“At the 1991 Peace Accord, the Cambodian government had agreed to a legally binding obligation to maintain a pluralistic and democratic system so we expect now the Cambodian authority to restore free political debates and competition and to respect the space for free and independent civil society,” Mogherini said. “We continue to see this negative trend without any changes as I said we are ready, in the council, to take appropriate measures.”
The EU is currently reviewing Cambodia’s membership of a trading scheme known as Everything But Arms, which allows Cambodian goods, predominantly textiles, tariff-free access to EU markets.
Sam Rainsy, Sokha’s predecessor in the presidency of the CNRP, said the vote marked “a historic day”.
“We thank the European Parliament and its 28 member states and their almost 700 parliamentarians for voting in favor of the resolution on Cambodia. It was a unanimous vote without any objection. They understand that it’s time to help Cambodian people to realize full freedom, justice, and real democracy.”
But government spokesman Phay Siphan said, “Cambodia won’t kneel under any pressure” from foreign powers, claiming the Cambodian courts’ decisions were independent of political interference.