Rights group Human Rights Watch released a statement on Monday calling for the Cambodian government to cease the arrests and harassment of members and officials of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The statement’s release comes as political tensions have flared in Cambodia following opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s announcement that he will return with other party members on November 9, ending a four-year exile. The announcement sparked a slew of arrests of activists and supporters of the CNRP, after the government linked the return of Sam Rainsy with an alleged coup attempt.
“The dozens of politically motivated arrests over the past three months demonstrate that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has no intention of lifting the heavy-handed repression that has darkened Cambodia in recent years,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in the statement.
At the same time, the Ministry of Interior has confirmed the arrest of at least 52 opposition activists and former officials linked to Sam Rainsy’s return.
Human Rights Watch also released an updated political prisoner list on its website, including all politically-related arrests across Cambodia. The rights group said it was incumbent on foreign governments and donor press the government to end the recent crackdown.
However, government spokesman Phay Siphan said the rights group was wrongly attributing a political cause to the arrests, saying the government was acting on an attempt to engineer a coup in the country.
“The government has not arrested political activists, but [arrested] those who have participated in a coup plot,” Phay Siphan said.
“If they confess they will be free, but if they continue like this they will be arrested,” he added.
Earlier in the year, more than 100 opposition former officials were summonsed for questioning at local police stations or provincial courts across the country, again related to a Sam Rainsy announcement on a planned return to Cambodia.