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U.N. Rights Chief, NGOs Slam Cambodia Over Opposition Leader’s Arrest

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, walks with opposition Cambodia Rescue Party Deputy President Kem Sokha, left, during a break at National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Cambodia's newly pardoned Kem Sokha has returned to parliament with a claim that he and Prime Minister Hun Sen have agreed to help reconcile their contending parties for the sake of benefiting the country. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

In a separate statement, Amnesty International said the government must immediately end its “escalating assault” on the opposition.

The U.N.’s top rights representative, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has joined international human rights groups in condemning the arrest of Cambodia’s opposition leader, Kem Sokha.

Sokha was detained in a midnight raid on his home in Phnom Penh on Sunday and accused of treason over comments he made several years ago about receiving advice from the United States and Canada.

“I am also concerned that numerous public statements by the Prime Minister and high-ranking officials about Sokha’s supposed guilt breach the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial to which he is entitled under Cambodian and international human rights law,” Al Hussein said in a statement on Monday.

“Sokha’s arrest is all the more worrying as it takes place amid other recent measures by the Royal Government of Cambodia. These have led to the closure of a foreign non-governmental organization and have targeted media companies, including numerous radio stations and one of the main independent English language newspapers, The Cambodia Daily, which has now been forced to cease publication after 24 years,” he added.

In a separate statement, Amnesty International said the government must immediately end its “escalating assault” on the opposition.

“The trumped up accusation against Kem Sokha is the latest development in a rapidly escalating campaign by the government that is also restricting independent news and analysis ahead of the 2018 general election,” it said.

Amnesty went on to detail a series of steps the government has taken over the past two months against civil society, including banning an election monitoring coalition, targeting rights groups, media organizations and other NGOs with questionable tax evasion claims, and closing radio stations that broadcast critical coverage of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“Having invested so much in Cambodia over the last 25 years, the international community should not turn away now, as the Cambodian government threatens to reverse course and use the law as a tool to restrict and silence Cambodia's independent media and civil society,” Amnesty said.

The International Federation for Human Rights in a statement said Sokha’s arrest was part of an “all-out offensive” against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime “to wipe out any form of opposition”.