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Minister Under Fire for Threatening Opposition With Beatings

A Cambodian government supporter, center, tries to block the convoy of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers near Royal Palace where party lawmakers deliver a petition to the King Norodom Sihamoni in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, May 30, 2016.

The comments from Vong Soth are just the latest threat of violence against opposition forces in the country this year.

The social affairs minister has come under fire from rights groups for saying that people who complain about election results could be “hit with a bamboo stick”.

Both international and local rights workers have called for Vong Soth to be fired over the comments, which he made at a gathering of officials on Monday.

“For the upcoming national election, if there is any problem, they will be hit with a bamboo stick,” he said, referring to people protesting against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“Please bear in mind that the government is borne out of the ruling party. Therefore, officials should know how to behave towards the party,” he said, speaking to any officials who might question his statement. “If they hesitate, they should resign.”

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said in an email: “The warning from the ministry, which is a restriction of the people’s freedom, is to please the Prime Minister Hun Sen. Moreover; Mr. Vong Soth should be fired from his position as the minister of social affairs.”

“He is clearly unfit for a job promoting social welfare when he thinks it's alright to threaten to beat people with bamboo poles if they dare voice opinions different from the government, or peacefully protest to air their grievances,” he added.

The comments from Soth are just the latest threat of violence against opposition forces in the country this year. In June, ahead of local elections, Gen. Tea Banh, the defense minister, said he would “smash the teeth” of protesters who complained about the election result. Prime Minister Hun Sen has also warned of “civil war” in the event that his Cambodian People’s Party lost an election.

Soeung Sen Karona of rights group Adhoc, said Soth’s comments could incite violence, adding that the repeated stoking of anti-opposition sentiment could undermine democracy.

“Considering previous statements, there was no proper punishment of those who used violence, both verbal and physical, against people and activists,” he said.

In the months after Cambodia’s last general election, in 2013, thousands took to the streets and were often met with violence by the security forces, which led to the deaths of at least five people in early January 2014.