Six members of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party who fled Cambodia this week ahead of likely arrest have now applied for political asylum outside the country, one member of the group told RFA on Monday, speaking from an undisclosed location.
The six were charged with incitement after making public statements in December and January in support of plans by acting party chief Sam Rainsy, now living in exile in Paris, to return home to challenge the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) grip on political power, and had been ordered to appear in court for questioning in the case.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on March 11, Maon Sarath—chairman for the CNRP’s political wing in exile in Bangkok, Thailand, and a member of the group—said that applications for asylum for all six have now been accepted for review by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Members of the group have applied for U.N. protection to make clear that “persecutions by authorities in [the capital] Phnom Penh have continued despite reminders from the international community calling on them to drop all activities seen as harassing CNRP activists,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, another member of the group said that she would have liked to remain in Cambodia, but that the political situation has now forced her and the other group members to apply for asylum outside the country.
“I applied for asylum with the U.N. because the court in Kompong Speu [province] issued a summons for me to appear in court on March 21,” Kun Mach, a CNRP member previously elected as councilor for the province’s Chhbar Morn town, said.
Dissolved in November 2017 by order of Cambodia’s CPP-tied Supreme Court ahead of national elections the following year, the CNRP has since re-established itself in exile, with at least 75 party parliamentarians and activists fleeing Cambodia to avoid arrest.
Acting CNRP party chief Sam Rainsy has meanwhile pledged to return to Cambodia within the year to take advantage of growing global pressure on the government of CPP prime minister Hun Sen, whose unchallenged electoral victory in 2018 has now left him in power for over 30 years.
In an interview with RFA on March 4, the exiled opposition chief called on his supporters to “stand up” and “peacefully bring down the Hun Sen regime” if the prime minister fails to reverse course on a crackdown on his political opponents, independent media, and NGOs in effect since the lead-up to last year’s general election.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.