Cambodian Authorities Coerce Ruling Party Support in Capital Village


2013-08-20
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cambodia-detained-youth-aug-2013-1000.jpg Youths detained for subversion are taken to prison after being charged at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Aug. 17, 2013.
RFA

Villagers in Cambodia’s capital are being coerced into signing a petition supporting preliminary results issued by the country’s electoral body declaring a victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party in recent elections, despite opposition claims of widespread poll irregularities, a rights group said Monday.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) made the claim as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) vowed to go ahead with leading mass street protests if its demand for an independent probe into poll irregularities is rejected by the government.

The group said in a statement Monday that it had received complaints of authorities forcing villagers to sign a petition acknowledging the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) as the winner of the July 28 election.

The CCHR has “received worrying reports from villagers at Sangkat Teuk Laak I in Phnom Penh that the local authorities have been pressuring the villagers into signing a petition that states they agree with the election results released by the National Election Committee—the same results as those claimed by the Cambodian People’s Party,” the statement said.

“Unfortunately, this is just one example of local authorities using their positions to pressure people into accepting the contested election results and to intimidate those who they believe to be supporters of the opposition.”

Preliminary results by the National Election Committee (NEC), which organizes elections, support the CPP claim it had won 68 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, against 55 for CNRP.

CNRP leader Sam Rainsy maintains that his party won the election with at least 63 seats and says that the CPP and NEC colluded to deny about one million votes for the CNRP.

CCHR said that the petition had been written as if on behalf of the villagers.

“We the citizens of Sangkat Teuk Laak I … strongly support the temporary National Assembly election results issued on 12 August 2013,” CCHR quoted the petition as saying.

The rights group said that the document went on to state that the villagers had observed the election to be free and fair, and that they reject any political party that calls for mass demonstrations against the results as announced by the NEC.

The petition also states that the villagers are “happy with the government’s efforts so far in maintaining the peace,” according to the CCHR.

‘Fuel to the fire’

Sam Rainsy has called for mass protests as a “last resort” if its claims of election irregularities are ignored.

The government has deployed troops, tanks, and armored vehicles in the capital, prompting concerns about a possibly violent showdown.

The CCHR said that villagers felt as if their families would be in danger if they did not sign the petition and comply with local authorities, whose actions it said were “clearly incompatible with free and fair elections and with freedom of expression in a democracy.”

CCHR President Ou Virak said that authorities were adding “fuel to the fire” by “putting words in the mouths of their constituents” and forcing them to support contested election results.

“Petitions written by CPP authorities and signed by the people in a climate of fear are no way of verifying election results and merely signify a rise in the intimidation of citizens through various means,” he said.

“Citizens have every right to disagree with election results and to support any party they wish; the actions of the authorities are undemocratic and inconsistent with the current need to keep the peace.”

Pledge of protest

The CNRP said that based on a random survey, party supporters are keen to stage mass demonstrations if official results are declared without considering its complaints of widespread poll irregularities.

CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha warned Hun Sen that he would have to face the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), of which Cambodia is a member, if he instructs security forces to crack down on demonstrators.

“If [Hun Sen] dares to fire on nonviolent unarmed demonstrators, he will be prosecuted by the ICC,” he said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that the Cambodian people are within their rights to hold a demonstration, provided they are given permission to do so.

“They must respect Cambodian law—not foreign laws,” he said.

“If any incident occurs, those who provoke the incident will be held responsible, including the demonstration’s leaders.

Cambodia’s Constitutional Council will hear the CNRP’s complaint against the NEC’s preliminary election results on Tuesday. The council’s decision is nonbinding for any election-related complaints.

'I am not afraid'

Supporters interviewed by the CNRP said the deployment of troops, tanks, and armored vehicles in the capital Phnom Penh will not deter them from participating in planned mass protests.

“Even though I will face threats I am not afraid,” said one supporter at a rally held by CNRP officials in Kampot province. “I will face those soldiers.

Another supporter said that the Cambodian people “are suffering from [official] corruption.”

“We can’t bear it any longer,” he said. “At my age, I am not afraid [of the consequences], as long as I receive justice.”

A third supporter said he was on alert to join the protests whenever the word was given from the CNRP.

“I will go at any time—just as soon as I am called,” he said.

Students detained

Meanwhile two students were detained last week for “incitement to commit a felony” after they planned to hand flowers to military personnel stationed in the capital in a bid to promote peace.

The Aug. 15 detention of Tut Chanpanha and Sok Dalin followed that of two other individuals, Hiv Borin and print shop owner Lim Lypaeng, who were taken into custody a day earlier for producing stickers with an allegedly inciting slogan.

Authorities had suggested that the two groups were working together to distribute the flowers and stickers in tandem, but in a joint statement on Monday the Cambodian Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) and rights group Licadho said their plans were unrelated and called on authorities to immediately drop charges against them.

All four were subjected to a lengthy interrogation at the city’s municipal court on Saturday and remain in detention pending a ruling from Judge Seng Neang on a bail request by their lawyers and family members, Phnom Penh Court Deputy Prosecutor Meas Chanpeseth told RFA Monday.

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

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