PHNOM PENH —
A group of eight U.S. congressmen has called on the State Department to continue its public condemnation of the continuing crackdown on dissent and arrest of the leader of the opposition in Cambodia.
In the letter, sent to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday, the lawmakers expressed concerns over the detention on espionage charges of Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and unsubstantiated allegations made by the Cambodian government of a conspiracy involving the United States aimed at destabilizing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
“In recent months, Prime Minister Hun Sen has conducted a widespread and systematic crackdown on independent press outlets such as Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America. The forced closure of the non-profit National Democratic Institute is yet another example of the Cambodian government’s efforts to marginalize democratic advancements,” the congressmen wrote in the letter.
Sokha was arrested on September 3 and later charged with treason-related offenses. Hun Sen has demanded an explanation of the U.S.’s relationship to Sokha after it re-published a years-old video of Sokha giving a speech in which he said he had been advised to establish a human rights NGO to prepare the ground for democratic change in the country.
The congressmen urged Tillerson to work with the U.S.’s regional allies and the wider international community to lobby Phnom Penh to adhere to democratic norms and the rule of law.
In a separate statement, the group Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), which has included several opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers among its members, said the region faced a crisis of human rights and democracy.
“Look at the political situation in countries across the region: an unprecedented assault on the opposition and civil society in Cambodia; a military government in Thailand that shows no signs of relinquishing power; a genocide unfolding unabated in Myanmar. Meanwhile, here in the Phillippines, the rule of law and accountability appear to have been thrown out the window completely in the context of the government’s ongoing drug war,” Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament, said in the statement.
Suos Yara, ruling Cambodian Peoples Party spokesman, said the congressmen’s statement was published “for their individual interest, not for the interest of the U.S. And not for the interest of the American people, and not for the interest of Cambodia or Cambodians.”
Leng Penglong, National Assembly spokesman, defended the jailing of Sokha.
“Whoever committed an offense must be punished based on the law of the state. It’s not wrong to do so,” he said.