Edward Royce, chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to end the “harassment and mistreatment” of members of the country’s main opposition party.
In a letter sent on Wednesday, Royce said the upcoming elections would not be seen as valid unless the Cambodia National Rescue Party was allowed to operate with freedom ahead of the vote.
On Friday, opposition deputy leader Kem Sokha was found guilty of refusing to appear for questioning on charges he solicited the services of a prostitute. He was sentenced to five months in prison and a fine of about $200.
The original case against Sokha saw him accused of having an affair with a hairdresser, Khom Chandaraty, also known as Srey Mom. Despite being subpoenaed twice in May, he refused to appear in court.
Sokha now likely faces arrest having not left the opposition’s headquarters since an attempt to arrest him was made earlier in the year.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the conviction was based on “trumped up charges” and a “political farce” that was “all part of Hun Sen's scorched earth plan to destroy the political opposition and run roughshod over the rights of those who dare criticize his government.”
Royce said in his letter that the upcoming election, scheduled for 2018, “cannot progress well without the participation of the opposition parties, therefore, the US House of Representatives would consider the election as invalid.”
“I urge you, Prime Minister Hun Sen, to reconsider about the adverse repercussion of the upcoming election, which possibly caused by the wrongful targeting of opposition leader and to put an end to harassment and mistreatment of Mr. Kem Sokha and other opposition parties,” he added.
The letter comes after a long period following the 2013 election in which Hun Sen’s government and the courts have targeted opposition members and lawmakers. It also followed the public killing of a popular government critic, Kem Ley, in July.
Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, defended Cambodian democracy as pluralist, saying there were many opposition parties in the country that were allowed to operate freely.
“There are 23 political parties, including [the ruling Cambodian People’s Party] in Cambodia competing in the national election, therefore, he should not worry about the political situation in Cambodia.”
Am Sam Ath, a senior technical advisor at local rights group Licadho, said if the tit-for-tat between the major political parties continued, no matter the results of the next election “if the results come out and the opposition is not satisfied, demonstrations and violence could ensue.”