Cambodian Activist Providing Food to ‘Red Zone’ Residents Latest Opposition Victim of Assault

Sin Khun is the 29th CNRP activist to be beaten by unknown assailants since March.
2021-05-12
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Cambodian Activist Providing Food to ‘Red Zone’ Residents Latest Opposition Victim of Assault Sin Khun displays the injuries he received in an attack by unknown assailants in Phnom Penh, May 12, 2021.
RFA

An activist with Cambodia’s banned opposition party who has worked to provide food relief to people forced to stay home during a coronavirus lockdown became the latest victim of an attack by unidentified men on Wednesday, leaving him hospitalized with a fractured skull.

Many residents of the capital Phnom Penh’s so-called red zones, areas of the city locked down amid a recent surge of COVID-19 infections, have been forced to stay at home for weeks without work. The order has been met with criticism as people who live in the zones have been blocked from earning money and going out to make purchases needed to feed their families.

Sin Khun, a 31-year-old activist with the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who in recent weeks has worked to deliver food purchased with overseas donations to those trapped in the red zones, said he was beaten by four assailants armed with metal bars and pipes on Wednesday, and that his injuries required a dozen stitches.

He said he had filed a complaint with police but does not expect that the suspects will be apprehended.

“I don’t have any hope because in the past many activists have been arbitrarily attacked and justice has never been served,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“I am a victim of this attack and I don’t have any faith in the court system or the government.”

Wednesday’s assault brings to 29 the number of attacks on CNRP activists since March alone. None of the suspects have been brought to justice.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sok Seiha told RFA that authorities are “working on the case without political discrimination.”

He questioned Sin Khun’s lack of faith that the police would carry out their duties.

“If he does not have faith in the police, why did he file a complaint?” he asked.

“It is important that he provides information and allows the authorities to work on the case. We don’t discriminate against anyone. When there is a complaint, we will resolve it.”

CNRP lawmaker and senior official Um Sam An told RFA he believes the attacks on CNRP activists were orchestrated by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to intimidate the opposition, which was dissolved in November amid allegations of a plot to overthrow the government.

The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for the CPP to win all 125 parliamentary seats in the country’s 2018 general election.

Um Sam An urged the government to end violent assaults on CNRP members and “return to democracy.”

“This attack is a systematic plan by the CCP—that is why the authorities can’t bring any suspects to justice,” he said.

Am Sam Ath of Cambodian rights group Licadho told RFA that police must investigate the case if they hope to avoid criticism over political discrimination.

“No suspects have been brought to justice, even though the attacks keep occurring,” he said.

 

Kem Sokha, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), is shown in a file photo. AFP

Call for reconciliation

The latest attack came as CNRP President Kem Sokha, who is facing charges of “conspiracy” stemming from his September 2017 arrest, continued to call for a political reconciliation between his party and the government as part of a “Khmer talking to Khmer” campaign, despite CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San saying that the ruling party cannot hold negotiations with him while his case is pending at court.

Last week, a top official with the CNRP told RFA Kem Sokha is trying to convince Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP to discuss a political solution to the country’s prolonged political stalemate and has asked other countries for help.

Kem Sokha posted a comment on Facebook Wednesday after distributing food aid to villagers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, saying that he could not “close my eyes, be selfish and betray the will of the voters.”

“I am doing everything within my power for the sake of Khmers,” he wrote. “I am working on diplomacy and communicating with Khmer leaders in the country for the benefit of all Khmers.”

RFA was unable to reach the CPP’s Sok Ey San for comment Wednesday, but he said last week that the ruling party won’t negotiate with Kem Sokha because doing so would “interfere with the court.” He said that the CPP can hold talks with Kem Sokha only after the court issues a verdict on his case.

“The party was dissolved by the court,” he said at the time. “Kem Sokha is no longer a party president. The government and the ruling party can’t work with him.”

International intervention called for

Kem Sokha was put on trial beginning in January 2020 but the hearings were suspended two months later on the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic. Hun Sen has hinted that the trial may not resume for years, and may not conclude until 2024, long after the next election cycle.

In the meantime, Kem Sokha remains under judicial supervision pending the outcome of his trial and must refrain from engaging in political activities within Cambodia, though he met with the European Union’s ambassador to the Southeast Asian nation, at his residence last week.

Political analyst Em Sovannara said Kem Sokha’s comments won’t help usher in political talks because the ruling party holds all the power and won’t negotiate without international intervention.

“It is obvious that ‘Khmers needs to talk to Khmers,’ but without intervention by the international community, Cambodian politicians won’t be able to resolve their differences between themselves,” he said.

He suggested that Kem Sokha should continue his humanitarian campaign, meet with supporters, and seek more international backing, despite his ongoing ban from politics.  

Hun Sen’s crackdown has cost Cambodia its preferential trade treatment by the European Union, and drawn U.S. sanctions on some Phnom Penh officials, but the country’s ruler since 1985 has largely shrugged off these measures while deepening his ties with China.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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